When I go out to take pictures, I’m sometimes on a mission… I want to find the owl again or find another wave… but I’m always looking for light. That’s what started me as a photographer… the clean green light inside the ocean. But even in childhood, my earliest memories always included light. There was light on the apple blossoms when I sat in my tree fort, light in shafts full of dust when we played in the hay in the barn, light on my bedroom ceiling when a car went by, even light in a glass of water. I couldn’t get over that. How could anything be almost invisible if I could touch it… feel it…hold it in my hand?
Light draws me to it. I think it’s human instinct. Light, illumination… those words mean truth to us. I’m not like Wilson and Molly, my golden retrievers who sit facing the wind with their noses upturned together, reading the news of the day and building their world around what they smell. I’m a person. I know the world through light.
We specialize in sight, or more precisely, in daytime sight, with eyes that see color and look forward and rotate in their sockets. We are unlike owls, with their widely spaced, unmovable eyes. They have to turn their whole heads to see anything, but they gain spectacular depth and nighttime vision. (Their eyes weigh as much as our own. This is so interesting when you think of our relative size and of all the elegant economies built into owls for flight. And I might as well say, since I’m already digressing, that eyes are never made hollow like feathers and bones. Even cameras and lenses are hollow, but all eyes are wet and full and heavy to carry, especially for owls.)
Photography is just a modern way to assist us in a most instinctive and ancient form of perception… It can help us pay attention. It can give us a way to connect to what’s real. It can help us see faster or slower, or closer or farther away, and that can surprise us, the way we were surprised by everything as children. It can move us into wonder.
So there I was, back on the path to Mansion Beach again, taking pictures in the same place again, like I’ve done a hundred times. (There was a black and white picture a couple of posts back… these are the same trees… just made different by the different light.) I looked for light in the ice that was coating the branches and in the snow that had come down wet and refrozen. I removed the UV filters on my lenses. I left the lenses unprotected. I wanted the light unfiltered.
And then of course I took my pictures home. That’s was another chance… a really good chance to live with what I’d seen…to take the time I needed to let it soak in, to catch up with how it was out there.
Words are like wind, churning up waves in a train that continues even when I’ve stopped writing. I think of something else and then I run back and change things around and then I do it again. And it’s not just the words but the rhythms beneath them, that start roaming around in my head.
Pictures put me in a different mind. I don’t cogitate the way I do with writing. I feel more certain and settled. I don’t build things bean by bean. The whole thing is altogether. I know what to do just by knowing. It’s closer to the core.
When my thoughts get overcrowded, I look at my pictures or I stop and look out the window. I run my attention out through my eyes. Then my brain starts getting some room to breathe; my mind starts feeling a bit more smooth and clean.
I want to try to bring vision and words together…to be instinctive and simple. I want to say what I know when I’m only looking. And what the owl knows and what Wilson and Molly also know, despite our different ways. I want to say it in the present tense, for how it is right now.
There is light here. I like it. I’ll stay.