Sunday, July 22, 2007

Blackberry Picking and Abstracts

What does picking blackberries have to do with abstracts? Perhaps a better title (certainly more informative;-) would be, "How to bring home some abstract photos by listening to your wife!" Hot on the heels of my last Blog entry (which also credits my wonderful wife with getting me into position to get some shots despite myself by insisting I take my camera, when I professed "lack of muse", and didn't want to bother), my wife is to be credited with again reminding me what every photographer (except this stubborn one!) knows; namely, that photographs are everywhere.

The context for this latest denouement (i.e., and my embarrassing inability to learn this one basic lesson) was a simple, lazy Saturday. The sun was bright, the kids were anxious for something to do outside, and my wife was full of interesting ideas. "Let's go blackberry picking!" she suggested, something we had actually never done before. I was delighted to tag along; indeed, because of the horrible "photographer's weather" (i.e., bright sun, few clouds makes for ugly contrast-ridden shots; at least in general), I had already consigned the day to be "photo free" and braced myself for an onslaught of the obligatory photographer's lament and pouting about "another day lost". However, as always, my wife was far wiser than I: "Hun, you never know what you could find. Isn't that what you always tell me? Why not take your camera." As on our recent trip to Florida, I relunctantly grabbed my camera bag, but was inwardly smiling with the thought, "Yeah, I'll take it, but I won't be getting any shots today!"

So we went berry picking, my wife and kids loved every minute of it, and we now have more berries than we know what to do with. As for me, I knew I was in a photographer's Shangrila the moment our minivan sauntered into the dirt parking lot of a local organic farm. While my wife and kids were gazing out toward the berry patches, my eye was drawn to old tractors, farmhouses, dilapited storage bins, deserted cars and trucks, vine-entangled old windows and beat-up farm equipment. "I'm so glad I decided to take my camera along!", I thought (Ahem!;-)

All told, we spent two hours or so at the farm; my wife and kids picking berries, and with me prowling around looking for whatever might catch the eye. The owners were very nice, and gave me permission to roam their property at will. They were a bit puzzled, though, about my subject matter. While I took a few stray shots of tractors and some closeups of hay, I spent far more time admiring one particular section of a half-ajar door (full of other-worldly realms of peeling paint and other mysteries) to a trailer just off to the side from where the owners set up a small table to greet all incoming berry-pickers.

My wife mercifully came to my rescue as the owners' quizzical glances soon turned to outright panic that perhaps the strange man bobbing his head up and down and contorting his body in odd angles while keeping his nose barely three inches from the door is, after all, just a bit deranged. "Please don't be alarmed," she jumped in to explain, "My husband just delights in finding interesting patterns and textures. He lives for doors like this!" (She could have rightly added: "Of, course, he can only do this when he remembers to take his camera, even if it looks like it's a 'horrible' day for photography!";-)

Friday, July 13, 2007

"Chance Favors the Prepared Mind"

"Chance favors the prepared mind," Ansel Adams was fond of saying (though the original quote comes from Louis Pasteur). I was reminded of the wisdom of this aphorism during a recent trip my family and I took to Coral Gables, Florida. Armed, as usual, with my camera-bag's worth of equipment, I had a carefully preconceived plan in place to visit some of my favorite "photo-safari" haunts. I know the area well from my many visits, and places such as Fairchild Gardens and Vizcaya were firmly at the top of my list. While they didn't disappoint (they never do), and each offers delightful compositional opportunities, through no fault of theirs - since I was the one who deliberately chose them for my photo-safari - my muse was unfortunately struggling to stay awake.

There is a feeling, roughly analogous to the common dream of running through molasses, that overcomes all photographers at some point when they've prepared too much. Everything is "right", all the equipment works, the lenses are clean, the camera bag has exactly what you need, the light is right, the location is right, beautiful vistas are all around you, and ... nothing happens. There is no magic. No spark. You lift your (strangely, much heavier-than-normal) camera to your eye, and - maybe - at some point click its shutter more to alleviate the growing boredom than because of anything that strikes your aesthetic eye as "interesting." And yet, everything, objectively speaking, is perfect. How can that possibly be?, you wonder Everything is just right. All photographers - all artists - know exactly what I'm writing about.

Now, skip ahead to the last day of my family's trip. The rain starts to fall in the morning, and is unrelenting; and with it, so I think, wash away my last hopes of savoring an "Aha!" moment at Fairchild or Vizcaya. Finally, the sky clears, it is late in the day, and my kids want to go feed the pelicans at a nearby park (Matheson Hammock Park Beach). Sulking from my trip-long funk, I want to leave my camera behind (something I almost never do). My wife (as she always does;-) reminds me that I almost never do that, and gently urges me to bring it along, which I do, reluctantly (and expect nothing more than to get some quick grabs of the kids feeding their pelicans, if even that). Which is, indeed, exactly what happens. No muse, no sparks, just that same monotonous, lifeless "clicks" as before...and then the magic happens!... just as the kids finish feeding their pelicans and everyone starts walking back toward our car.

While putting away my camera, my trip-long, nearly comatose "photographer's eye/intuition" finally awakens, and forces me to glance over my shoulder...and I am absolutely transfixed by the magnificent cacophony of lines, shadows and light playing on the rapidly darkening, and by now deserted, marina. Literally breathlessly, I reset my tripod, rifle through my bag for a 3-stop ND filter (to get at least a 15 sec exposure to blur the small waves), compose more on instinct than design, and take one shot. At which time my wife and kids are already getting antsy, and remind me that dinner is waiting and that they're all hungry. And the magic goes Poof!

But what a moment. While my one shot - reproduced at the top of this blog entry - may not be an award winner, it is by far my best shot of the whole trip. It is also the one shot I didn't plan on taking at all; though I was prepared!

I hope I'll remember this little lesson in humility, though I recall saying those same words to myself countless times before, and such experiences still obviously take me by surprise when they happen. Although I almost always "plan" on going to certain places (that's my style), and always have at least some idea of what I'm "after" when I get there (in concept, if not detail), I also always try to be prepared for when chance decides to pay me a quick visit. Indeed, as a photographer, I live for these moments!