Some things aren’t decided, they happen

Rising Sun Grand Canyon

Rising Sun Grand Canyon NP

The following is an excerpt from my In This Issue column in the upcoming April 2013 issue of OP.

I’m pretty much an NPR addict by accident. In Los Angeles, where a group of highly-educated, thoughtful people can have deeply-meaningful conversations about traffic, I spend a few hours every day contemplating the vicissitudes of freeway dynamics while sitting in an incredibly-slow-moving car on The 10 (in Southern California we call al the freeways by their number with “The” in front…somehow it just sounds more proper than using an I or just the number itself). But freeway dynamics can only occupy one’s brain for just so long before madness sets in, so at some point about 15 years ago, I scanned the dial and I came to KCRW, a local NPR affiliate and NPR’s Morning Edition.

During my average drive, I can hear most if not all of a show and on Fridays I always hear the segment from Story Corps. The Friday Story Corps stories are consistently the most heart-wrenching segments imaginable and they are why I make sure I frequently get choked up and I always have a kleenex supply on hand in the car. Sure these segments can be tough to listen to, but they are also filled with wisdom and they fill me with a desire to be a better person. A recent installment also made me want to be a better photographer. A husband and wife were telling the story of how they came to be together. “How did you decide you wanted to marry me, “ she asked him. “Some things aren’t decided, they happen.”

That simple statement was both touching and inspiring to me. It was emotionally touching in the context of the couple who were interviewing one another and it was inspiring because it made me think about my approach to landscape photography. I was brought up in the Ansel Adams school and the notion of previsualization. Like a Shao-lin monk studying the mysteries of kung-fu, I believed that with enough dedication and practice, I would eventually be able to previsualize a photo fully, from concept to execution. I might be the landscape equivalent of a black belt now, but over time I’ve learned that when one becomes preoccupied with previsualization, you can miss the real picture. The triumph of making a plan and sticking with it without deviation can leave you completely unprepared to see the entirety of a scene. In other words, some things aren’t decided, they happen.

When you’re out in the field, don’t forget to let things happen. That, Grasshopper, is the route to real photographic enlightenment.