Friday, May 29, 2009
Several weeks ago I wrote about the earnest young spiritual seeker who asked a wise old Buddhist monk where one could go to find enlightenment, and the monk answered "Stay where you are."
Though the monk's answer might seem like some kind of smart-aleck double-talk riddle, I think that his point was that happiness won't necessarily be found by traveling someplace. The old man was challenging the kid to find his answers in the here and now.
I like to remind myself of the monk's advice when I start getting fidgety and thinking that I need to go someplace to find photographs. Both of the pictures posted here were found just a few steps from my front door.
I think the old monk was there with me.
Monday, May 25, 2009
I had two “work” shoots scheduled for today, though for many Americans it was the Memorial Day holiday. Throughout the 30-some years I’ve worked as a photographer, I have sought-out some kind of parade or ceremony on this holiday and documented the event, often for a newspaper, sometimes just for myself. It felt weird when I realized this morning that the two obligations I had on my calendar would keep me from photographing Memorial Day.
Funny how things happen. As I was finishing the first of my shoots -- it happened to be in a small town not far from my home -- I walked past a park and practically bumped right into a flag-bearing honor guard; it dawned on me that a ceremony was about to take place.
I took a few moments and made a few photographs, just as I have always done on these American holidays, then headed off for my next obligation.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Statistics tell us that the population of our planet grows daily, and I suppose it would be easy for each of us, individually, to feel small and insignificant, as if our personal actions matter little in the face of so much humanity.
I was in Seattle yesterday, part of a crowd of several hundred folks. My friend Joelle, who works for an organization called Climate Solutions, had asked if I’d photograph a rally she and many others had organized near the site where the Environmental Protection Agency was holding hearings about the measures our country might undertake to combat global warming.
You might remember Hillary Clinton’s famous slogan: “It takes a village.” Those words popped into my head as I looked out over Seattle’s waterfront. I’d made my way to the rooftop of a building and was able to view both the city’s skyline and the crowd gathered below me, hundreds of people rallying for action on climate change.
“That’s one big village, I mused.”
Still, I realized that the crowd was made up of individuals. Joelle was there, and I knew she and many others had worked like crazy to help make the rally happen. An older man was also there with a sign making a statement about the future, and a young woman with a flag of planet earth. The rally was made up of this person and that, scores of singular beings, villagers all.
What an amazing village.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Are there people you don’t really know but encounter as you go about your daily routine, and the seeing of them is something you come to expect? There’s the woman around the corner from your house who is already out gardening as you head to work early in the morning (you think of her as pink-sunhat-Gardening-Woman.) There’s an elderly Asian gentleman you see as you drive past the park, and the fellow is slowly going through the movements of tai chi (perhaps without realizing it you label him as: Old-Chinese-Guy-who does-tai chi.)
Well in my town, I’m pretty sure that my role in the lives of the people who are driving about on errands or working at their jobs in the post office or the bank is: Yellow-Jacket-Bicycling-Guy. Though there are days when I have a shoot and need to use my car to transport myself and my gear someplace to work, there are many, many more days when I’m working at home editing photographs or corresponding with clients. If I need to make a trip to town, I ride my bike.
I like bicycling. It’s good exercise, cheap transportation, and easy on the environment. When a local environmental education center recently put on an Earth Day event called EcoFest, a friend who owns a bike shop and I volunteered to host a bike booth. Our intention was to demystify bicycling by handing out bike route maps and free safety ”blinky-lights,” encouraging our neighbors to consider a bike as one of the ways they can get around. EcoFest also gave the folks in town a chance to better get to know Yellow-Jacket-Bicycling-Guy.
So many individuals -- particularly kids -- have respiratory problems these days. Bikes are one way we can all breathe cleaner air.
Here are links:
Puget Sound Clean Air Agency:
Port Townsend Bicycling Association:
Friday, May 15, 2009
Maybe we all have moments in our lives as adults that make us feel insecure, weird, or awkward, and I suspect I’m not alone when I say that sometimes I feel like I’m back in junior high. But because I happen to be married to a woman who I first met in seventh grade, I think I have more reason than most folks to mentally time-travel back to a world of pimples, fart jokes, and a painful desire to be part of The Crowd.
I am 50-some years old and I still want my wife to think I’m one of the Cool Kids.
I was out in our yard the other day and I had taken my glasses off and set them aside. Minutes later I noticed that a tiny, bug-eyed frog had hopped up and laid claim to my specs. Call me paranoid but I think Mr. Bug Eyes was mocking my eyesight. Like that! I was back at Central School and was part the crowd sitting in the stands at a junior high basketball game. The other kids and I were laughing as some smartass (and I was much to polite a kid to do this) yelled at the ref (who invariable was bald) “HEY CHROME DOME, YOU NEED GLASSES!!!” If the poor (I suspect volunteer) sports official already wore glasses, then the smartass would loudly bellow “NICE CALL, FOUR EYES!!!”
Fifty-some years old.
I’m SO freaking weird.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
The wisest thing I can do today is to admit one thing upfront: There are no words I can write that will do justice to nature's artistry you see above. So I’ll simply tell you the backstory.
My friend Joelle and I were hiking Sunday in a Central Washington mountain range still covered in snow. The day was sunny and the air springtime warm, so we hiked in T-shirts. At the same time, the snow was deep and mushy and we wore snowshoes to avoid sinking in up to our knees.
We both kept looking up at the sky. The sun was moving in and out from behind clouds that were doing amazing, billowy performance art for us. We had a sense that Mother Nature might be in the process of pulling one of those out-of-nowhere mountain storm rabbits out of her hat. Rain could be about to hit us, or snow. Or...
“WOW!” Joelle suddenly said, pointing up. "A CIRCULAR RAINBOW!"
“WOW WOW WOW!!!” I chimed-in. "I think that's what's called a Sun Dog! I read about them once."
It was Mother's Day, and Mother Nature surely outdid herself for us.
Friday, May 8, 2009
It’s pretty rare for me to find pleasing landscape pictures while I’m driving in my car. For one thing, the land near paved roads generally isn’t wild enough to suit me: Setting up my tripod on the shoulder of a road where trucks are whooshing past makes me nervous. For another thing, I seem to need to be out hiking, usually with a pack on my back, sweating my way up a steep mountain trail, before my senses tune in to a place. When I walk, the visual puzzle pieces of earth, water, and sky begin to fit together.
I know it’ll probably sound corny or maybe highfalutin, but the nature photographs I do that personally stand the test of time are experiential. When the dirt of a place has gotten into the pores of my skin, then a photograph I might have made in that place is more likely to have some staying power in my brain.
Last week I drove to one of my favorite areas of the Pacific Northwest. I carved two days of time out of my work schedule and just took off. I had a few ideas for trails I wanted to hike and what kinds of photographs I hoped I might find, but every trip offers its own surprises, and I always try to stay open to serendipity.
The Big Surprise last week’s trip had for me was that my best images -- three of the four you see here -- were shot...uh...from the side of a road. Yes, I did an enjoyable hike on my trip, and yes the arrowleaf balsam wildflower picture at the bottom of this post was shot on that walk. But the other three images were seen at 50 miles per hour.
The light was good.
The scene was right.
I pulled the car over and set to work.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I recently read an apocryphal story about a young college student, an earnest if somewhat naive seeker who is interested in the great philosophical questions of humanity. The student becomes frustrated with college and feels he isn’t finding answers to his many questions by attending class. There is a Zen Buddhist monastery near campus and one day the student knocks at its door. An elderly and wise-looking red-robed monk invites the young man inside.
The student says: “Wise monk, I know I have much to learn about Life. I have heard that there are sages who live in the mountains in far-off lands and I would be most grateful if you would tell me where I can travel to find answers to my many questions.”
The old man smiles warmly at the student and with great compassion says simply: “Just stay where you are.”
As a photographer, I know that there are many pleasing images to be found in my own back yard; I don't need to go Someplace Else to find them. Still, I’ve had a mild case of wanderlust lately and I decided to just give in to that. I threw my sleeping bag and camera gear into the car and headed for the North Cascades, indulging myself with a two-day photo safari road trip.
The pictures you see here are from the first part of the trip, my drive from the lowlands of Puget Sound up into the high country. I planned my travel so that I’d be in high places late one day and early the next when I hoped the light would be good.
I invite you to check back for my post this coming Friday when I’ll share pictures from the second day of my trip, a high desert that was crazy with spring bloom.