The Joy of Lens

Many people, myself included, feel photography is one of the most enjoyable and looked-forward to elements of any trip, short or long. Walking around with your eyes wide open, the inner rectangle laying down upon everything from gutter to spire, from parking lot to Pantheon, it’s the trip’s magical centerpoint, and extension of your right-brain, ready to capture a moment on the sensor, bringing it from your eyes ultimately into the wondrous temple of imagination.

During lulls in the daily action of a trip I’ll scan, with near obsessive scrutiny, the shots I’ve hoarded on my memory card, checking to see which, if any, were “epic”. You know the ones: that baby or elder face on a dissolved background of ancient castle, a corner or sidewalk scene with a somber passing figure, a serendipity existing solely to be etched upon your consciousness forever, fully encapsulating  the spirit of that day, that week, that trip, or that time in your life utterly perfectly. They are the few elusive shots you wouldn’t untake if your life depended on it. I live for those. The iconic ones, the photos that when the places is even mentioned you can’t help but think of them.

I don’t consider myself to be an expert photographer, an enthusiast with a good eye perhaps, but I always shy away from ludicrous praise. My grasp of exposure and f-stops leaves much to be desired.  But when you’re talking about the sheer thrill of taking pictures, I doubt anything can match the exuberance I feel when my fingertip touches the shutter button. For that, I hold honored spots.

I should say that a fair portion of what makes modern professional photography outstanding is more than the camera, more than the lens or even the eye behind it, but the software that enhances it. Which is a bit of a shame since those greats of old had nothing but themselves to make their spectrums bounce. You wonder where they’d be if they had. Nevertheless, professionals put a glossy patina on any site, artifact, or monument that brings it into the sublime. It’s something that a simple visit will not allow. It creates a sense of strange otherworldliness that may not even be there when you see it with your own eyes, a ghostly sheen over the photograph that’s hard to define.

How often is it that you take pictures of the Eiffel Tower, Great Wall, Christ the Redeemer, Giza Pyramid or other iconic spot only to find that it looks nothing like you saw on the books covers and travel sites, but shrouded in haze, fog or blinding midday sun. In the magazines the lighting was perfect, the Golden Hour mist was gracing the architecture with its divine kiss. But sadly your Machu Picchu was choked with flat grays and millions of people, your Tuscan olive grove was baked and wilted under a three year long drought.

But perhaps your photos are that much better because you get shots like that, the world with all its nakedness, with your own personal experience. It’s how you will ultimately remember it, how it will always be to you, until you return and see it in some other light. This is why other people’s photos won’t ever do as much for you as your own. It’s the intimacy of the shooter’s world with all its imperfections that they bring back home.

I appreciate this most about the moment of capture. That it’s a question of luck just as much as it is of skill. Granted you must know more than just when to snap the shutter, but availing yourself to the spontaneousness of chance ends up being the most important part of any photo moment. And often times you will get that sunbeam, that swan with it wings reared out, that laughing child. And you will feel amazing because of it.

My desire when traveling is to bring tiny elements into the pastiche. Because in my opinion, that’s what traveling is: a million little pieces blending to form the collage of your memory. What are pictures but hundreds of quadrilateral pieces of memory manifested onto the rectangle inside of which you browse them?

Ultimately, you will think what you want about other people’s pictures. You will take what you want and leave the rest. Most of their richness is for the photographer alone. They are the ones able to be transported back to the moment of shutterfall and, in many ways, this is the most inspiring aspect of any art form: time-travel. This seizing of the past, of the location, of the dream of the person you once were and may never be again.

While yes, I will always look longingly at other’s talents and exotic destinations, I will scroll back through my own laptop photos and at once be sucked back through the wormhole to Istanbul, Paris, Rome, Rio, Cusco, Siam Reap, etc and etc.

This is the benefit of the camera for me. This is why I look through the eyehole to the world I live in, the beautiful, colorful, frame-ready world in which I live.