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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Realizations


What is photography for you?

Labels: How-ToColumnBasic Jones

Breaking wave, Papohaku Beach, Molokai, Hawaii

The sound of my footsteps in the dry grass. Another adventure. A short one this time, just walking out to Papohaku Beach here on Molokai to watch the sunset. I've done this a hundred times and, hopefully, will do it a hundred more. I kick off my shoes when I reach the sand; start to reach for my cameras, but end up just sitting down and turning my eyes to the sea.

I'm forever overwhelmed by the beauty of this place. Before me, a line of shimmering backlit waves rolls joyously toward the beach. Repeatable miracles, always here when I arrive. I let their beauty sink deep into me.

I hear the words of philosopher Lewis Mumford: "Adventure is humdrum and routine unless one assimilates it, unless one relates it to a central core which grows within and gives it contour and significance. Raw experience is empty, just as empty in the forecastle of a whaler as in a chamber of a counting house; for it is not what one does, but in a manifold sense, what one realizes that keeps existence from being vain and trivial."

"What one realizes..." From all the great photographic adventures I've had in my life, what have I realized? What lessons, touchstones, runes have I found? A good thought to ponder looking out to sea, my cameras still comfortably in their bag. I watched and mused for a long time.

The first realization that bubbled up was that, in the end, photography for me is not a vocation or an avocation, not a hobby or an amusement or a skill. Photography for me is a spiritual practice. It's a discipline that connects me more closely to the core of the universe and the core of my own being. It opens my eyes and, in doing so, allows my heart and my soul to open, as well. At some level, I've known this truth for years, but it was nice to see it so clearly.

Another realization followed close on its heels. If photography is my spiritual practice, then the experience is always more important than the photograph. For me, the photograph isn't an end in itself, but the residue (beautiful residue, to be sure) of my connection with the scene before me. The experience must always come first. Does it? No, far too often I get too lost in the process of "making" the image and realize at the end that I've missed being fully present to the experience. In the arc of my life, photographs collected in this way will never make up for the connections I missed.

Photography as a spiritual practice: a discipline that allows me a thousand new perspectives on the world. A discipline that takes me to a place of reverence. To a place where I can be the watcher, the appreciator, the celebrator and, ultimately, just the lover of the incredible beauty it allows me to witness.

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