Photography and Presence

…[My] photographs aren’t always iconic, or even good in an aesthetic sense. But the making of them helps me see more clearly the thinner slivers of my life: that makes even the worst of them good in some way. Perhaps for no one else, but for me.  And if that can make me more alive, and more human – and I believe it can for all of us – it can make us better artists, and give us a place to stand, from which we can – through this art – call others to be more present in these moments so quickly passing.

—photographer David du Chemin, from the essay, “The Time of Our Lives,” in The Blog of Artifact Uprising, 1/4/15

(FYI: “The Time of Our Lives” is a really beautiful piece of writing, if you get a chance to click over and read it through!)

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Some “slivers” of my life from the last twenty-four hours:

Snowy feet.
Glittering powder…
...and loooong shadows.
…and loooong shadows.
Blue, blue sky behind brown branches - and brown berries!
Blue, blue sky behind brown branches and brownish berries.
Pretty red berries that all looked (like this one) as if somebody oh-so-carefully balanced a snowball right on top of them - like, for decoration.
Pretty red berries – each bunch of which looked (like this one) as if somebody had oh-so-carefully balanced a snowball right on top for decoration.
Waiting at the bus stop.
A cold little girl waiting for the AM bus to school.
I should say, SHIVERING a the bus stop. (It was COLD this morning!!!)
A nice big brother spreading some warmth.
Huddling together for warmth.
Three pairs of snowy shoes.
Though did you know that so long as your mouth is covered, you're sure to be warm? Warm enough to step away from the group and (try to) make snowballs to throw at your sister? It's a shame when your mom has eagle eyes...
Ice to slide on…snowballs to throw…chunks of snow to stomp on. There’s nothing like a snowy morning to start your day off right!

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I get frustrated sometimes because I feel like I take pictures of the same things all the time (the apartment complex, my kids, my dog, occasional trips into downtown [Washington, D.C.]) I want to test myself as a photographer with different sights and scenes. I want to see and do and explore! I’ve always had an urge for that – for travel, for immersing in the different and interesting. But since photography’s worked its way into my insides, I want it even more.

I want it in a different way, I guess. It has to do with the fact that I see things differently through the camera. I experience things differently. As David du Chemin said (later in that article that I quoted from above):

[Photography] roots me. Pulls me back to now.

Photography does that for me too. It’s changed (and continues to change; it’s an ongoing process) how I move through the world. Photography compels me to slow down, to connect to my present moments. It helps me to remember to breathe, to center – and in so doing to really live the moments. Which is living so much more fully!

I want very much to see what the wider world looks like through that (metaphorical) lens.

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I really want to go exploring. I have the urge.

Of course, I always have the urge. The urge simmers on my inner back burner pretty much all the time. But it really is rather powerful at the moment.

If I could, I’d just pick up and GO. Just jump in with both feet and immerse…into what, I don’t even know exactly.

Something new. Something different. The stimulating and interesting.

A different air. Different light. Color…sound…texture. I wish it were possible!

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That’s not to say, of course, that exploration is impossible. I can definitely explore more than I’ve been doing lately. I mean, do I really know all of Washington, D.C.?? Hardly. There’s plenty left to see. In greater Virginia too. Not to mention Ohio.

But the inescapable reality is that I can’t do what I really, really want to do right now. That would be something BIG. Something all-encompassingly different. Something that throws open your mind with the flood of newness.

It’s not inconceivable that I might find something somewhat interesting exploring in D.C./Virginia, or even Ohio. (Not to knock Ohio – it’s just, having grown up there, it’s the most familiar, and least able to contemplate as somewhere to explore.) But I can’t imagine finding anything local that would be equivalent to, say, walking along the bioluminescent beaches in the Maldives. Or standing in the pink rays of a sunrise on the Gold Coast of Australia. Or exploring a blue city.

Finances and responsibilities being what they are, however, I have to make do at the moment with smaller and quieter exploring.

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But that’s okay.

I mean, it has to be okay. I have to find a way to be okay with it, as the more exciting options aren’t currently in my reach.

But really, it’s more than that. It’s not about settling. (I don’t believe in settling.)

I thought about this when I read David du Chemin’s essay (linked above): It’s that there is worth in covering the same photographic ground again and again. There’s artistic value for sure; it trains your eye. It’s practice. But there’s also a discernible life value, as he was getting at.

I need to remember that. And not because I believe in tamping down on your dreams and desires – because, as I said, I most definitely don’t.

No…it’s more about a quote I came upon recently (I can’t remember where.) It said something to the effect that “as we live our moments, so we live our lives” (or something like that.) Meaning: life isn’t just about the exhilarating adventures.

I mean, hopefully you do have some of those (I certainly want them…very much!) But life is about the little moments too. And if you constantly slide over those little moments, always looking ahead to the next “big thing” (or regretfully behind, to things already passed) you’ll miss so much.

I don’t want to miss things.

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I want to embrace my moments – all of them. I want to be present.

And not just when I’m in the Maldives, or wherever! I want to be always present. I aspire to that.

I think that’s a good thing to aspire to if you want (as I do) to know yourself better, to peel back layers, to acquire understanding. And I think it makes sense if you want to attain some kind of contentment in your life (and who wants to live forever restless and discontent?)

But it strikes me that it actually makes sense if you crave adventure too…doesn’t it? If I can’t live my moments fully, if I haven’t developed that skill (because, for me at least, it is a skill,) won’t I miss out on something when I do eventually get to, say, the Maldives? Wouldn’t I have to? Isn’t everything – the exciting stuff, as well as the more mundane stuff – bound to be richer if your whole approach to living is focused on being present?

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Maybe, like a meditation practice, going over the same photographic landscapes and subject matter day after day is actually good training for this?

I’m going to try to approach it from that angle anyway.

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