I visited a new farm last week, and climbed some steps up a bluff, where a view of the mountains sprawled in front of me. At the edge of a cliff, a large stand of sunflowers drew my attention, and I “took a picture.” (Now that I'm thinking of cameras day and night, “taking a picture” seems like a strange way to phrase the act of creating a photograph.)
I showed the farmer the photo (via the playback mode, inside the camera eye), and she loved it. She wrote me later to say: “And speaking of surprises, that image you showed to me in your camera, looking down the steps through the rows of vegetables and looking finally into the sunflowers was an impossible image. I went back and stood where you did and tried to find that picture again and I couldn't find it. How did you do it? There's magic in your lens.” (This is the photo, taken on my Canon Powershot Pro1. I'll write more about the new farm soon, after I take my chef friend, Justin, for a visit.)
I've already become aware that it feels as though every farm has something to reveal to me. I don't know if it's “magic,” per se...it isn't luck. It might just be something as simple as paying attention, or listening. Or responding to a breeze, and turning my head in the direction the wind is blowing. When I travel with my daughter, we often remove ourselves from the treadmill of tourism by simply wandering. We follow our noses, almost literally. I think a certain spontaneity of spirit is necessary for a traveler, and for a photographer. I don't mean a photographer with a studio: they're trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
The photographer I am is a walking photographer. The photographer I am is a listening photographer. What I've been experiencing with this new lens is that I am on a very short leash now. No longer can I zoom in and out to frame my pictures: I must now walk up to my subject. And I must bend and twist: camera yoga, as it were. (Pictured at left: plums in a wicker basket. I am particularly enamored of this photograph: the warmth, the tone, the mood, which is somehow evocative of the impending autumn, despite being at the height of summer bounty.)
The limits of the lens outdoors is that I can't step back very far. It's like having to hold a piece of poster board at arm's length and having that to frame a shot...but only in the landscape sense. It makes for a very rectangular experience.
Up close, things are different. Up close, things sort of whisper. Lately, I have noticed the feeling that, when I am looking at a flower, or an apple, or a plum, that it is looking back at me. Peeking at me, wanting to be seen. Peeking at me, appearing hopeful. No, I'm not making that up. If I am imagining it, I'm convinced myself that it's an authentic experience. (I have felt, since I gave birth, that I grew a new set of sensors in the "detecting authenticity" department. I'm not saying that only mothers or all mothers have built-in bullsh-t detectors, but that was one of my particular gifts from a long and arduous labor.)
Sometimes severe limits create wonderful art. Have you ever had the experience of looking into what you perceive as a nearly empty refrigerator, and creating a dinner with elements you'd never have thought of before? I was on a rigid cleansing diet once, and could use no oils when cooking a chicken breast. What to give it flavor? The unlikely combination of cinnamon and mustard powder. (Don't take my word for it.)
When you love something enough to get close to it, notice what happens to the rest of your sight. The world goes blurry except for the object of your attention: be it a baby's feet or your lover's face. Or even a flowering plant.
That's what I love about this lens.
I was talking to Bob about this experience I've been having, and he said, "You have a natural rapport with your subjects." (In this context, the things I photographed at the farmers market.) He said that caring about things makes better photographs.
I suppose that's true, but I will have to think about it.
Which I'm doing all the time, but it's time to get back to work with my clients.
That's all for now.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day—like writing a poem or saying a prayer.” — Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I would add that photographing a flower in the morning gives me the same feeling.