There are moments when you realize you have absorbed an image, or have absorbed an understanding of the light in an image. When I took the shot above, it was with Roy DeCarava’s table in mind. His use of light and his rich dark tones have always captivated me, and having internalized them, they often inform how I see and capture light. DeCarava’s use of the strong horizontal line, particularly in this image, is also an aspect of some of his work that speaks to me (in similar ways, contemporary photographer Brendan Kelly’s work also inspires). That said, my image doesn’t have the same pathos expressed in DeCarava’s photo with its record of absence: the empty coat hanging on the back of the chair, the meal eaten, the dishes stacked. As someone just beginning the photographic journey, my image is of a plateless table anticipating the coming meal, anticipating the presence of the person yet to eat. And that that light will always be DeCarava’s light.
Travel always provides opportunities to see new things, capture new things. The dark side to that is the self-induced pressure to see and capture everything. I’ve discovered a sense of greediness in wanting to capture it all, a greediness that can rob one of the immediacy of any moment.
Recently, my husband and I visited the island of Kauai in Hawaii. It’s a beautiful, lushly green island, and also a challenge to photograph given unpredictable weather conditions involving rain and wind. So, you get what you get. Even with a tripod, nature doesn’t always stand still. WIthout a tripod, the excitement of capturing an image may translate through the camera and produce a subject that is out of focus. Those two things combined contribute to me having to toss the majority of my photos from the trip, although a few photos remain. Those remaining images are precious reminders about stilling oneself when one stands before a subject, particularly a beautiful subject…..and there were many of those on Kauai. When I expressed my thoughts about this image greediness to a photographer friend, his advice was to slow down and “trust.”
Such greediness also reminds me of those photography theorists who insist that camera-wielding tourists act as empirialist agents, committing acts of violence through the innocent eye of the camera. Many times I disagree with that, particularly when one’s subjects are not people. Still, spending time on an island once inhabited by Polynesian peoples whose land and culture were stolen and fetishized by white Western culture, I was much more sensitive with regard to where I pointed my camera. However, when capturing this image of the Buddhist statue ringed with a leaf lei that sat inside the entrance of a local bookstore, I felt a profound reverence for both the statue and its location inside a place I consider one of my temples. I “took” the photo, but the image gifted me with a sense of serenity.
So, how does one remain serene with camera in hand? How does one both be in the moment while capturing the moment? It’s a balance I still strive to master.
Let me first say, I don’t hate Mother’s Day. “Why I Hate Mother’s Day” is the title of a piece writer Anne Lamott wrote for Salon.com that takes on the way our culture views and treats mothers: “No one is more sentimentalized in America than mothers on Mother’s Day, but no one is more often blamed for the culture’s bad people and behavior.” I tend to agree. It’s a holiday designed for Hallmark more than actual mothers, and even then, the term “mother” is very narrowly defined. I am not a mother (in the traditional sense), but my own mother has been a huge influence in my life, both in good and in bad ways. Every day is Mother’s Day for me because I can’t imagine a day when I’m not talking with her on the phone, particularly when we are separated geographically by a continent.
It’s interesting, though, to think about her life, apart from the history that we share. She had her own host of dreams, including the one where she gets a horse and changes her name to “Texas Annie.” Later in life, she traded in the dream of being a cowgirl for a teaching career, which she maintained for over forty years. I, too, have become a teacher, but, ironically, I am highly allergic to horses. And whatever she is or hopes to be now that she’s retired from teaching, this is one of my favorite pictures of her: a beaming, confident girl ready to ride into the sunset.
I have crossed the line. I now buy produce not just for its nutritional value, but for its aesthetic value. So, when I come home with some odd fruits or vegetables, my husband asks, “Are we actually going to eat these?”
Sometimes we do.
“There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing… I am a recording instrument… I do not presume to impose “story” “plot” “continuity”… insofar as I succeed in direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function… I am not an entertainer…” from Naked Lunch
Apparently, Burroughs recorded life using more than a pen. A new book has been published, Taking Shots: The Photographs of WIlliam S. Burroughs, the catalog that accompanied an exhibit of William S. Burroughs’s photographs at The Photographers Gallery in London. It seems there are more than a few writers who also took pictures, including Jack London, Eudora Welty, Ralph Ellison, Wright Morris, and William Faulkner.
A feather is trimmed, it is trimmed by the light and the bug and the post, it is trimmed by little leaning and by all sorts of mounted reserves and loud volumes. It is surely cohesive.
–Gertrude Stein, from Tender Buttons