Dancing with a Camera in the Presence of Light — Part 4: Yes to Everything
Some of my perplexity comes in this duality, which I cannot tease apart: As isolated individuals, we are alienated from the universe, which often opposes us and which defeats us in the end.
But as products of that universe, made of its returning elements, breathing in what the trees breathe out, we are part and particle of everything — but part of an everything that does not value us as persons.
To feel connected, must I give up my sense of self? To have this sense of self, must I feel alienated from the universe, then lose that self, and die?
In the beginning of my experiments with a moving camera, I bought an old, used Canon A630 and set out to see what I could persuade it to do.
This early digital camera was slow. The focus was erratic. Its shutter had an unpredictable delay, so you never knew quite when it would click. Its small lens required long exposures that caused many pictures to smear with motion.
I loved it.
I took thousands of pictures, nearly all of them bad. I shot without a plan, on impulse, on instinct, by intuition. I took a picture of anything that asked me to.
I took pictures from moving cars, behind furniture, over my head, through the windows of abandoned buildings. I made formal portraits of wilted flowers. I set the camera on a timer and lowered it into a drain to shoot a stormwater river underground.
While walking three dogs on their leashes twice a day, I freed one hand to take dozens of pictures of our exuberant English setter, Pete.
Photographing Pete taught me to move fast, to anticipate, to open to the scene, to find light, to be ready, to take chances, to experiment, to wait, to be surprised, and to take a picture before I had a chance to think about it.
So, much of what I know about photography I learned from dogs.
Art and music teach people to work with complex, unnamed relationships — among multiple elements — that mutually influence one another — as they change.
Hurling through the intersection to park on a downtown street at night, the fire truck became a concerto of lights — red, blue, white, yellow flashing lights — single, double, fixed, pulsing, rotating lights.
As I walked past, firemen with flashlights moved into the floodlights: The scene performed a scherzo of light and color and motion. I wanted a picture that evoked this.
Who I become
When I dance with you
Who you become
When you dance with me.
Red Maples against a Blue Sky
Returning from a trip to St. Augustine, I set up the camera to take pictures from the car. I was driving us on I-10 at 75 mph and had been spotting the Florida red maples along the low-lying roadsides.
As the late afternoon light angled into the branches, I handed the camera to Christl, coaching her, with her artist’s eye, to take a series of impossible long-exposure shots of the trees as we blurred past.
From perhaps two dozen shots, I chose a picture — smeared with speed, blurred, dark, but budding with life — to work into final image that suggests, not what the scene looks like, but what it feels like to be in that moment, at the first turning of the season, when the red maples flame out along the roadsides, and you know winter will not last forever.
Abstract as it looks, this, then, is a photograph of something that was really there — the moment spring returned.
Walking the dogs the other night, I was overcome by the realization that there are houses all around the earth that, if you knock on their door at the right moment in your life and theirs, you could spend your whole life in that house, with those people, and be happy.
Fortunately, I kept walking till I got back home.
Human beings have an inborn gift for testing what their culture has told them about themselves.
We know it as the sense of self.
At times, the following image suggests the crossroads where the human and the sacred intersect — call it, if you like, the cosmic and the individual, the archetypal and the personal, the physical and the conscious — where that intersection is vibrant with the fur and feathers of life.
At other times, it sings with the resounding silence that gives it the name, Cantata №1.
This is Part 4 of Dancing with a Camera in the Presence of Light, an ebook available on Kindle and on Apple Books.
Gerald Grow is a retired journalism professor. More at longleaf.net.