People ask me, “What kind of pictures do you take?” Slow on the uptake, I never thought to inquire why they asked or what they really wanted to know. Just being conversational, or were they were looking for something specific? So, I just say, “I pay attention.”
I used to hesitate with “well, a lot of nature pictures, abstracts, close-up shots, things around the city, and I’m doing more outdoors-informal-portraits.” All true; you’ll see it in the images on this website. But the thread through my photography is a search to capture things that we see every day but don’t quite notice. The interesting, the beautiful, the perplexing, or even the little tiny things—some inner essence that just doesn’t register when we cruise along thinking about yesterday’s work disaster or what to make for dinner, anything but paying attention to what’s around us. I get bored when I don’t pay attention.
My images may show an interesting rock, a small piece of a fireworks display, or somebody who seems incredibly present in the moment while chewing on lunch. (I‘ve been told that one cannot take good pictures of people while they’re eating. It’s not true, because eating can get in the way of trying to look like you think you are supposed to look.) I aim for undistracted, direct engagement with who or what’s out there.
“What is it?” is a another question I hear about photographs. It prompts the wiseacre in me, “It’s a photograph.” This answer is totally true but does not answer the question asked. Here’s why I avoid the question:
I do not play golf. I’ve walked golf a course maybe twice in my 68 years. But like making or viewing photography, golf is about attention and follow-through. Golfers insists that follow-through on their swing is critical. If they stop paying attention as the club touches the ball, it just does not work. Please stay with me here…
Everybody takes photographs these days, all the time. Is this how you do it? See something. Get phone out. Open camera app. Lift camera to eye, adjust it, and snap picture. Put camera away and move on? Me too, too often. Or do you stay to look longer at what attracted your attention? I’ll guess at your answer and say that we are not alone. But just like in that golf swing, it’s way too early to stop paying attention. I know I miss out on a lot when I don’t stay put.
Back to “What is it?” I was really asked: “What was on the other side of the camera when you took that?” But the answer to that question just gets in the way. They instantly know all they need. They’re done and move on. They stop paying attention. I don’t want to short-circuit their attention to the photograph. When they look at me funny, I say, “I know! I know! I will answer your question, but not quite yet.”
Something to consider in looking at photos, or doing almost anything. 15 or 30 seconds can feel like a long time, even if you like it. My physical therapist recently told me to do foot stretches in sets of three 10-second repetitions. I told her that I usually do longer reps and asked why 10 seconds. Michelle’s answer was simple, “If I ask people to do a 30 second stretch, they just don’t do it.” It’s your call.