Nature is not, of course, always benign and beautiful. It can be frightening and terrifying also.
Not too many generations ago, raw nature and wilderness tended to inspire fear and dread in “civilized” people.
They represented Otherness and the Unknown. That which is “wild” is also “bewildering”.
Today, wilderness is usually considered to be something good and in need of preservation.
The beauty and awesomeness of it dominate our attention.
We are attracted by wilderness, the Otherness of it, the sense it is something inevitably outside of us.
Always beyond us, it is what is ultimately real.
We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense.
It will elude us if we allow artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and this Other.
To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.
In Wildness is the preservation of the world.
-Henry David Thoreau
There is a constant conversation that takes place involving photography and more specifically, equipment. Tools, techniques, gadgets, gizmos, extras, and essentials. From cameras, lenses, bags, to software. It can be so overwhelming at times I am surprised newcomers continue to pursue it. But pursue they do, and in droves it seems.
I am consistently surprised at advice I hear and read that is given to those wishing to learn, “photography”. One of the most common suggestions I have heard is, read your camera manual. Possibly, more likely probably, the single worst piece of advice that can be give to anyone with a desire to learn photography.
The complexity of even simple cameras today can be overwhelming. Menus nested in menus, nested in menus, is the norm on the most basic dslr cameras. The amount of technical options in one manual is simply overwhelming, if not ridiculous.
There is always somewhat good advice mixed in such as, use a tripod, along with the standard suggestions of, understand exposure, and learn composition. Necessary and good for sure, but are they talking about learning photography or simply learning to use a tool? Last I knew, really good hammers, and knowing how to drive a nail straight does not build a lovely home.
As time goes by one will hopefully become adept at operating their equipment and the additional paraphernalia such as a new lens, a macro lens, (closeups are cool). Then comes the age old advice of, venture to popular places, explore a few iconic locations, stand where many photographers have stood before, possibly famous and well known photographers. Become popular on social media, build hundreds if not thousands of followers. Enter photography contests and possibly win. Sell some work and become known as; A Photographer. Many may long for the social interaction that photography can supply. Social bonding with others of similar beliefs, ideas, and yearnings. Photography outings are planned from sun up to sun down if not longer. Fun I am sure for its social interactions and comradery. At this point, hopefully, you will have become very proficient with your tools, learning to get the most out of them. You may have mastered them. You may now have many more friends, both physically and virtually. But the question seems to always remain; are you getting the most out of photography?
We all will undoubtedly need to learn how to use our tools. There is no great trick to this. It simply takes practice. The other side of this on going “how” is of course, why? Why does one want or need to master the tools of their craft. Be it musical, culinary, or visual such as photography. There is more to a great piece of music, a great home cooked meal, or a photograph, than simply mastery of tools used. There is always more. They play themselves out as options that afford a greater understanding of the process, the experience, the personal insight required to understand not only what to do, but why to do it. This is not about the photographs one makes but reasons they chose to make them.
A very common if not the most common experience surrounding photography is that based in chance. Or to put another way, blind luck. Explore the places, lands, and environments that are popular. These are easy to find. Magazines and online outdoor and nature articles are full of them. They give you everything you need from time of year, time of day, gps coordinates, even the equipment recommended to capture a scene exactly as they are showing you. This will undoubtedly lead to a higher chance of producing photographs that fall into a few of the categories previously mentioned. Most notably the category of popularity. Iconic scenes of blossoming wildflowers, the array of colors of Autumn foliage, reflections in the lakes of surrounding mountains, the ever popular sunrise and sunsets complete with long reaching sunbeams, and the growing popularity of the night skies filled with stars and the milky way. These are all popular for sure, and to adequately capture, one will need a good understanding of their equipment.
Over the years I too have given much time to this game of chance. This hit and miss approach. It is one that can produce great rewards. But more often than not produces disappointment. Disappointment is not what photography is about. Expectations are fine, but what one basis their expectations on seems to have strayed far from the beneficial attributes of why one pursued photography to begin with.
I am not one who seeks affirmation of my photographs. I have written about this previously and have stated without question, the work I pursue is for one person and one person only, me. This may very well come across as a selfish endeavor without any regard for the photograph or even for others. This is simply not an accurate assessment. It is a selfish endeavor yes. But only in the regard that it is based entirely on the experience of what may become a photograph. Put another way, the photograph is the end product of the experience, with the experience being the only essential part of the pursuit.
One can leave opportunity up to chance, or one can create opportunity by choice. The two have strikingly different outcomes. One has a high risk of ending in disappointment while the other creates personal experiences of deep, profound, and emotional moments based on unbounded respect. This may be what Buddhist Masters have refereed to as Zen, a personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. Or a phrase coined by Alcoholics Anonymous, a Higher Power. But it can be described simply as an understanding or acceptance of life that is greater than oneself. Possibly the antithesis of selfishness.
I belief these profound moments can have life changing consequences. They become personal insights, with the ability to provide a path that transcends all known emotions we may have previously experienced. These moments seem to have a prerequisite of solitude, are deep personal reflection, and meditative in nature. This is what I ultimately want to share with others. But are they even shareable? The experience, no. But a photograph, story, or sharing of such insights, yes. It seems to be the best we can do. But it does not happen without first making the choice.
So it begins with a selfish choice and ends with deep respect, humility, empathy, and awe for those places, times, and moments of my own making. From there, I cannot be naked enough.
While it is true opportunity shapes attitude, it is also true attitude shapes opportunity. As Henry David Thoreau so rightfully stated: We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense. To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.