More Than Pictures
Occasionally, my photographs tell a story, but far more often, they are simple pictures. I don’t mind. My primary concern is that the pictures portray a place or a subject in a way that encourages viewers to enjoy, appreciate, and contemplate beauty. To be honest, even that is too lofty a goal for me. The real beauty, the real creativity is in the subjects themselves, and no amount of fine-tuning in a composition – no amount of post processing will allow a photograph to replace reality. That is why, during the peak of last weekend’s aurora borealis display, I was laying down on the frozen Mendehall Lake, using my backpack (with the camera inside) as a makeshift backrest instead of recording the spectacle in photos. It was glorious, and I smiled to myself, felt a wave of gratitude, and praised God. Even the hint of guilt that I felt at not even making an attempt to share the experience with people less fortunate than myself was probably off base. The truth is, there are countless photographs of the aurora made by photographers all around the world that are exponentially more impactful than any I’ve managed to create over the years. But even the best of those images, viewed as a print or on a luminous screen in a dark room, can’t hold a candle to the experience of watching curtains of colored light dance rhythmically across the sky…live and in person! My visual memory of those spellbinding minutes has already faded almost completely, but the feeling lingers – the reality in which I participated. Life is so much more than pictures.
And yet, the experience is not quite complete when we keep it to ourselves. When you’ve read an excellent book, you feel compelled to tell your friends (even strangers) about it. After singing the book’s praises, full satisfaction doesn’t come until your friend reads it for herself, cover to cover, and joins the song. That is the apex of any human experience, especially a moving encounter with the natural world. My joy in nature’s beauty has been enriched a hundredfold by the opportunity to feel and express that joy alongside (my good friend) Corey, my wife, my daughter, or many others. But as a photographer, because there really is value in sharing pictures that highlight meaningful aspects of the world, I often forget how rewarding it is to be a part of another person’s real-life discovery of beauty.
Thank God, He doesn’t allow me to forget for long, and in the last two weekends, I was blessed with the chance to introduce two individuals to the ice cave near the west edge of the terminus of the Mendenhall Glacier. During the earlier of the two visits, the idea of going to the cave during the time we were spending together was enough of an afterthought that I didn’t even bring my camera. Our wonder at all the intricate winter textures in the surface of the ice, the luminosity of the ice overhead (even as mountain shadows were spreading across the glacier’s surface), and the view up to the sky through the remnant of the giant moulin was unencumbered by the perceived need to document the moment. I was firmly reminded of the immense gratitude I feel every time I have the opportunity to instigate someone’s first visit to that incomparable location…so of course I couldn’t help making plans to do it again six days later. On the second trip, I had a pair of companions (one was the same young woman who I had taken out the previous weekend and the other was getting his very first taste of ice caves). While I was in the unofficial role of “tour guide”, I was also something of a third wheel, so I brought my camera for the primary purpose of keeping myself out of the way. While I busied my critical eyes (that have seen the inside of this cave and others too many times to keep track) looking through the camera’s viewfinder, the other two members of our party were engaged in a joint experience that is only possible when things are new. I wasn’t too busy to notice.
Yes, my recent opportunity to share a place that I treasure practically fell into my lap, but then I took matters in my own hands. God willing, I will do that again before too long, and I hope I’ve encouraged you to do the same. Reread your favorite book with your spouse. Take your son or daughter to the top of a mountain they’ve seen with you, but never climbed. Plan to visit a National Park with your parents. Invite a friend on a service trip to Africa. Don’t be embarrassed and hold back when you are blown away by the beauty around you – beauty in nature, or art, or cultures, or people, or God. Express it. Proclaim its virtues in words or with pictures. But most of all, do what you can to make that beauty a part of someone’s life.