I've been training for next month's big Grand Canyon hike. So, last Friday my friend and I took a hike on the Coastal Trail near my home. While it is impossible to mimic the conditions of the canyon in the cool, coastal climate of the Bay Area, the Coastal Trail has plenty of inclines for a good cardio workout. The fog was thick on Friday, so dense it made the entire hike feel like a dream.
On the way back, as if an apparition, a woman on a horse materialized out of the fog. It was a moment in time where I felt that I needed to blink and rub my eyes. It felt unreal, almost as if she were a messenger from a parallel world. Luckily I had my camera with me to record it.
I made almost 500 photographs during the hike. Digital imaging has made us photographers shutter happy. It's seductive and intoxicating to get into the photo zone and photograph the world around us. However, I often struggle with what photography does to me when I'm in that zone. Am I really more present, more mindful, more in tune with my world? Or, am I simply distracted by the camera, trying to grasp onto something that should be enjoyed simply and merely in the moment?
We all have seen tourists frantically trying to capture the moments of a trip with their still and video cameras. I've often wondered if they can even remember their trips at all without their photo albums. Photography has changed the way we travel take in the world. Being present is more and more challenging. Photography is a way to keep busy and to collect things when we might otherwise simply be in a magical moment.
The past few years I have fallen in love again with photography. For many years after my undergraduate degree (in Professional Photography) I was tired of the entire experience. Photography had become work, ruined by the complexity of gadgets, materials, and stupid admonitions of teachers and professors. I constantly felt the pressure to make a "perfect" photo, free of the imperfections of which I had been so numbingly and repetitively reminded.
Now I just make photos. I don't think much about it. My camera is so responsive and digital photography is so much fun that I just keep clicking the shutter. For me, most of the time, photography brings me into greater awareness, a hypersensitive state where I see things more acutely. But, I must remember to occasionally give myself a break and put the camera down. Sometimes the camera isn't the best way to be with a moment. There are times when breathing and stilling the mind and soul are more necessary than getting an image.
Too often, after a trip, I've sat down with my photos and wondered where particular images were shot. Where was I when the shutter was tripped? Was I actually there? If so, why can't I now remember where I was? That never happens when I travel with my sketchbook. I remember each and every sketch like it was yesterday. I remember the air, the sounds, and the feelings I had during the sketch. Drawing is different than photography in that way. It slows us down rather than excite us with the adrenaline of the photo shoot.
I'm not ever leaving my camera home when I travel. But, I am going to remember that photography is only a part of the experience. While it a cherished passion, it is an activity that both enhances the moment but also takes something away from it.