Monday, May 5, 2008

Eyes wide open


I wrote a blog entry about a hike at Del Valle and I was surprised by the comments. I described how I saw it along the trail and wherever I looked and people were wondering just exactly what “it” was that I saw. I thought it was pretty obvious what it was that I saw that day. What did I actually see through my lens that day? I can sum it up in one word: Everything.

It is sad that in the 18 years I have been taking pictures professionally I seem to have been losing my vision. Not my eyesight, but my vision, what I see out in the world around me. You might wonder how can a photographer lose his vision and still be able to take pictures? It is hard to describe but somewhere in the daily grind, in the months of 80 and 90 assignments you simply stop looking at things when you are not at work on assignment.

Its funny how we can put blinders on and just focus on the task at hand. In this run-and-gun world I live in I budget time for travel, budget time for shooting, budget time for processing pictures but I never took time to look around and see what was around me day to day. Life becomes one continuous assignment and it takes a toll on our vision.

I went to a photography seminar early this year and the photographer running the event posed a question to the field of photographers gathered before him. How many of us who had a passion for photography when we started no longer took pictures at any other time than for work? How many of us had lost the passion that stirred us in our youth? Dozens of hands went up including mine. The years of looking through the viewfinder can take a heavy toll. The work becomes everything; it becomes the only thing and the vision dims.

So there I was in my own little photography world running from news event to sports event to feature assignment and back. The pictures looked better and better through the years, the skills improved but looking back I shot less and less on my own time. I never really thought about it, just seemed like it would be too much like work on a day off. My interest of aviation had a photography outlet in photographing airshow but I caught myself judging how much fun I had at an airshow by how well I did taking photos.

The only thing worse than having your vision slowly dim is the realization that you don’t want to see. Somewhere along the line despair begins to creep into your photography. Instead of thoughts of clouds and sunsets in the viewfinder your vision is obscured by the harsh realities of life. Fatal accidents, shootings scenes, funerals, grieving parents, grieving friends became fodder for my camera and it weighed upon me. A cold January night photographing a candlelight memorial was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Painful and sad it cast more shadows on my sight. Every thing seemed dark and depressing. Friends abandoned me, the job was a grind and it seemed like everything was one long assignment. I was deep in the world of photojournalism but I was blind to the simple joys of photography.

But just like the saying goes it is darkest just before the dawn. And one day, with no fanfare my eyes opened again. Near the summit of Mount Diablo I took a short hike and carrying a small point and shoot camera I took pictures just for me. Not for the paper, not for an assignment but pictures just for me. It’s amazing how exhilarating it feels when you realize it doesn’t matter what the picture looks like as long as I like it. No deadlines, no package of photos with cutlines and separate web copies required. Just pictures for me by me.

Many more hikes would follow with my friend Alice and it is exciting to see how my photography improved. Not my photojournalism photography, I never doubted my abilities there but I could see my photography on the hikes go from snapshots to more artistic endeavors. It reminded me of my years in high school as I learned about photography and took my first steps behind the camera.

But the best thing of all is that I started to see again. The trips on trail are feast for eyes and I took it all in. From fields of spring flowers to groves of eucalyptus trees and a single feather in the sand I began to see pictures that told stories to me of light and shadow, texture and form. Stories that were quiet and peaceful and brought back the same passion I once had for my photography. I want to look for them more and see what wonders there are to be photographed. Seeing is believing when you can look and see the beauty of the world everywhere around you.

1 comment:

Melanie said...

That was beautiful, you know. Sad and happy all at once. It made me smile.

Oh, the photos weren't bad either. But you knew that ;)