Wait! … a moment
I was once asked what aspect of photography I enjoyed the most. My answer surprised me at first. “Itʼs The Waiting,” I replied. The questioner and I stood looking at each other with noticeable surprise. A long moment of silence followed. As it peaked at “awkward suspense,” we moved on to more mundane topics involving photographic mechanics. Later, parting company, I couldnʼt brush the sense of surprise and discovery from my mind.
Something about my life as a photographer rose from my innards and exposed a part of myself I had taken for granted. This “something” is so simple that it is often misted over by the usual emotions that arise during the photographic process. This includes the excitement I feel when framing an inspiring scene in the viewfinder, or seeing its finished print. However, there is something else.
For me, “The Waiting” is a time of preparation, centering, allowing the expected and unexpected to dance with each other; and above all, a time of still potentiality. In some ways, I might be considered a very passive photographer. I donʼt spend large amounts of time developing mental libraries of visual concepts that I aggressively pursue. Instead, “The Waiting” allows possibilities to run their most significant course, producing miracles that I am fortunate enough to experience and also record on film. Einstein once said, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” “The Waiting” facilitates dropping as much mental baggage as I am able, before I begin the almost automatic process of exposing film.
“The Waiting” provides the opportunity to recall sensations, at the emotional and even biological level, from my boyhood. Those memories eclipse “adult world” burdens that have become a part of the load – as much as the 4×5 and 8×10 equipment that I cart around! My boyhood memories remind me of what it was like to become completely lost in fantasy while lying on my back, seeing dragons and elephants forming in the cumulonimbus above me. Now at age 55, it is these memories, and, purposefully allowing time for “The Waiting,” to center the imagination that helps me expose film worth keeping.
Unusual things happen in The Waiting space. If circumstances allow, I prefer to photograph alone. Arriving at a location, I spend time wandering quietly around until I feel a place that seems “right” with potential. I sit down and close my eyes, attentive to every sound I can possibly hear. Sometimes, Iʼll even put the dark cloth over my head, if Iʼm in bright light. I listen for a long time. I wait until the sounds I hear forge an intimacy that becomes almost tactile. Then I open my eyes. A part of the scene will present itself more strongly and will draw me to it. Not always, but often, Iʼll reach and touch objects in the scene. At that moment, I am connected, and the camera comes out.
Once, deep in a forest, a rivulet passing through stones captured my attention. Before I knew it, my clothes were off as I waded into the middle of the stream with $5,000 worth of equipment. When the necessary film had been exposed, the camera was put away on dry ground. I promptly sat in the middle of that stream, enjoying the sounds it made. Feeling it wash over me swept me into dusk, glowing in the fading dappled light.
As an extension of the Waiting, I occasionally do something that blows people away. Navajo weavers will purposefully create a “mistake” in their weaving, so their soul isnʼt caught in the finished rug. Following suit, I sometimes break the pattern of my work, lay the camera down, and let a “good one” escape. People freak out and scream, “How can you do that?” I usually shrug. I know I donʼt want MY soul to get caught in the tapestry of being a professional photographer whose only way to experience life is through a viewfinder.
Photographs we make are undoubtedly lovely and worthy of admiration. Yet, for me, they are shadows of that something more immediate, more astonishing, that glows prior to form and substance. Often, it seems I use the profession of photography as an excuse to hunt that ineffable glow.
Inevitably, the phone rings and a distraught client is on the line, needing a series of images the day before yesterday. I jump to research, label, keyword, document, and upload those images to arrive yesterday morning. The glow, preceding form, found in The Waiting, fades, yet, the vague memory of its existence is strong enough to keep me going until the next time. And I’m willing to wait for it!
Orig. pub. Lenswork Quarterly vol 5