Seeing Strongly…

I’ve yet again been having a difficult time reading for fun. I miss reading. For so long it was my escape, my mental retreat from the world. I always carried a book with me to turn found time into fun time. Now this dearth of pleasure in reading seems to crop up when I’m struggling with memories from the past or other PTSD symptoms underneath the surface. My stack of YA and nonfiction sits untouched on the shelves next to the bed along with compounding magazine subscriptions occupying an ever growing pile of electrons inside my Kindle.

So these last few weeks I’ve attempted to use my newly discovered coping skill of reading about cameras and photography more intentionally when I noticed I’m not able to attend to reading. Why not read and actually learn to improve my craft as I distract from knowing the overwhelming things creeping up on me? I might as well get something out of my coping mechanism.

So there has been been quite a lot of reading photography books instead. I can attend to these at least somewhat. I started with Joe McNally’s “The Hot Shoe Diaries” and then “The Photographer’s Eye” by Michael Freeman. Both were interesting in their own way. Joe’s book was fun to read, Michael’s informative but neither was fulfilling the need for authenticity and perhaps deeper meaning I was seeking.

On a whim I went on a used book buying spree one weekend ordering all of Ansel Adams“The Camera”, “The Negative”, and “The Print” in his photography series plus another of examples on the making of forty iconic photos. I’ve long loved and admired Adams’ work so finally reading these books makes sense.

Well… mostly since unfortunately there’s a deeper layer here. My father idolized Ansel, and so his work sometimes disturbs slumbering memories from the depths. It makes for hesitant reading. After trying to read a couple of the Adams books and making minimal progress, I stumbled across “The Art of Photography” by Bruce Barnum and decided perhaps it would better fill my needs of the moment. Bruce seemed to speak to the part of me desiring to find a way back into photography and reading at the same time. I can’t say it has helped jumpstart my reading, but it has definitely helped me focus more on practicing my art.

In “Art”, Edward Weston is credited with describing photographic composition as the “Strongest way of seeing.” While I have always looked for subjects and resulting images which piqued my interest and solicited an emotional response, I’d not thought much about the process past that feeling. Armed with a bit of awe and some resulting intentionality, I set out to see strongly.

After work one evening the following week my wife had an appointment at a slightly unusual building. I decided to take advantage of my free time to walk around and find some images which spoke to me. Months ago I had taken to keeping a small DSLR in my purse, and so I was all set when we arrived. She went in to her appointment and I strolled around with a camera in hand as I like to do.

At first I tried a few perspectives in a courtyard but each time the images fizzled. I didn’t feel anything. That heavy stuck feeling started creeping up inside.

Shadowed walkway

Peeking around a corner, I saw a passage of deep shadows between two buildings crowned by sky. It seemed an escape from where I’d been trapped in the past, from where I starting to stick in the moment. It was an invitation to look up and back into the light.

Pac Man on gate duty

I climbed the stairs and turned, looking back the way I’d come. A change in perspective and continuing to be open had pulled me out of the darkness. Inspecting the gate, I realized the Pac Man of my youth (albeit a bit rusted) had been relegated to gate latch duty. A smile formed.

After a moment of reflection I continued around the building. The sidewalk fronted along a wide avenue whizzing with cars and trucks just feet away. I longed for the quiet shadows of the passage or even the courtyard. Still, it is better to keep going forward. Walking around a Pub on the corner, I found a vantage point with light and color. I stopped and paid attention, noticed what drew me to the scene, the light was layered, the colors contrasted, and that sky!

Around the edges of my perch were a few planters with colorful flowers and ivy drawing my eye in. With some work I managed to capture just what interested me, and not the giant cigarette disposal device almost interwoven into the ivy of the planters.

The tang of wort and sharp citrus of hops filled the air as I walked on. A brewery guarded by towering tanks and an old delivery truck stood in front of me as I down to the back of the building.

Behind the brewery, detritus from replacing the walkway to their drinking patio was stacked haphazardly against a post. Density of texture, color and light jumped at me just waiting to be seen.

Coming back to my starting point, I was confronted by a panalopy of flowers. Clearly they had been there when I began my walk, yet only now was I seeing them. What had changed in the intervening walk so I was now able to see the shock of black-eyed Susans right in front of me?

I had started to inhabit the world around me, to notice, to be in the present. I was seeing strongly just by giving myself an opportunity to do so. I’d spent a pleasant hour almost entirely present, being in the world of light instead of the shadows of my mind. It is a place I intend to inhabit more often.

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