The moments that really count are often obscured by the noise of the world. The fleeting vignettes of life are subtle. They are like delicate humming birds that hover for a moment and then vanish in a blink. One must be still and present to see life.
It's all getting worse. The human mind used to have more downtime than it does now. Years ago we seemed to be more comfortable with doing nothing. Now everyone is multitasking all the time. What happens to those precious and irretrievable moments while we're sending an inane text message? Are we missing life?
The miracle of still photography is that in photo after photo we see these tiny, revealed secrets—the fleeting vignettes. Gestures, expressions, posture, poses, and interactions come and go with such delicate speed that we often don't catch them. Photography trains us and turns us into keen observers. If we slow ourselves down we can see an entirely different dimension to the world around us.
I learned all this from my father, who was not a photographer. My dad was simply a people watcher. He could sit on a park bench and watch for hours. Often, he'd want me to accompany him but I didn't like it. He'd sit there for so long that I'd get impatient with him. I just didn't understand how one could just sit and look and do nothing.
"Dad, what are we going to do next?" I'd ask.
"We're doing it," he'd respond. My dad often spoke in riddles, particularly when I got annoyed with him. He was a crew-cut buddha in a white shirt with a pocket protector. He enjoyed annoying me, sort of lived for it. To him, getting under my skin was a hobby.
"I'm bored," I'd say, kicking the park bench and looking at my feet.
"Just watch the world go by," he'd say. "You'll never get bored if you watch the world go by."
It would take years for me to understand him. He's been dead for seventeen years and I'm just now getting to know him. And I'm still not as good as he is at people watching. I can't stop and observe the world the way he could. I still need something to do. I still fidget. So, I photograph or draw or write while I'm watching my world go by. I'm trying to capture it, to grasp it, to keep it. He was happy just letting it all come and go. He was wiser than I am. And he was the only buddha I knew who could also use a slide rule.