From a mountain to a boson

Though the limitations of a small camera with a long zoom are clearly apparent in this image, for some reason I had to set it here this morning. So now (isn't this part of what contemplative photography is about?) I'm trying to figure out why; what does it have to teach me?

I took the picture a week or so ago while visiting a friend on Orcas.  Her home looks north across the water toward Mount Baker, and when the sun began to set the alpenglow was so spectacular we all reached for our cameras.

... which isn't so surprising, though each of us knows the camera is unlikely to capture the majesty  of the spectacle.  I thought of that again this morning as I was going through the pictures I've taken the last few days, mostly of the moon rising over the sandspit.

Why, I wonder, do I keep taking pictures at moments like these when I should know after all these years how unlikely they are to convey anything like the beauty I'm seeing?  And -- perhaps even more importantly -- why, when I look at the images later and find them so unsatisfactory -- do I find it so difficult to throw them away?

Let's start with the first question.  There could be several answers, each with a little truth in them...

1.  Hope springs eternal in the human breast: even though we know our cameras are small, we keep hoping that by some magic the majesty of the moment will be captured.

2.  The desire to share -- though I suppose there could be good and bad sides to that.  Maybe it's a bit of showing off -- "Look what I got to see last weekend."  But I'd like to think it's more a desire to convey the intensity of the experience to those who weren't there.  Imagine, the photo says, how it might affect your view of the world, to have a mountain this large hovering always on the horizon.  Imagine how humbling that could be, how small your concerns might seem, how inspired you might be by such a vista...

3.  The desire to capture the moment so you can feel it again later and remember those sensations.

4.  The call to respond: presented with such a gift, how can we honor it?

5.  The need to be doing something.  I mean, how is it that we can't just sit before the wonder of it, not pick up a camera or a phone?  Is it that hard to just enjoy, to sit in silence and just drink in the majesty, to let it fill your soul?

And now for that other troubling question, the one I'm wrestling with this morning: why is it so hard to throw these images away?  This one is harder to answer; I'm finding I can only respond with more questions:

1.  Am I afraid that by tossing the image I am somehow losing the moment?  But there are so many other images of the same moment, so that shouldn't be true...

2.  Am I afraid that by culling the images down to the one best vertical and the one best horizontal I might accidentally end up tossing the best ones and saving images that won't meet whatever future need might arise for them?

3.  Am I just reluctant to spend the time sorting through them; eager to get to the more fun stuff (i.e., blogging, or painting, or playing with photoshop)?

4.  Is it that if I spend too much time with all these only half-adequate images I'll get discouraged about my photography?

5.  Is it that I just don't trust my own judgment?  Or is it that each image has value and I have trouble deciding among their relative merits?

6.  And why is it so important NOT to throw out an image that might have possibilities?  What am I afraid will happen?  Who are the "they" that might be disappointed if I don't have those discarded images any more?

I know.  WAY too much navel-gazing to make for an interesting blog post; this is probably why my friend CRJ doesn't read my blogs but just looks at the pictures: way too many words, not enough silence.  But navel-gazing seems to be part of the deal when you begin doing contemplative photography as a spiritual practice.  Or maybe even when you begin to see all of life as a spiritual practice.  You end up back in what I like to call "Broccoli Theory."  (Although I could be confusing intellectual enquiry with spiritual practice...)

By Broccoli Theory I mean that if you consider each moment, if you take the time to examine it closely, explore all its ramifications, it becomes this sort of infinitely branching query -- like a head of broccoli.  You start with that one thick question and it generates all these increasingly more focused avenues of exploration, each branching out itself into ever smaller and more pin-pointed possibilities.

If we had the patience to stay with it, I suppose there's a possibility we could end up just paralyzed by all the choices.  But perhaps we'd end up unearthing that something that unifies us with all of creation, the similarity that lies at the root of all diversity; something like the Higgs-Boson Particle -- or maybe just ... God?

Perhaps all of this is moot.  Which is why we play with images in the first place: a picture is worth a thousand words, right?  Apparently this one was only good for 926...

PS:  My blogsister Joyce Wycoff posted a link to this Ted Talk on Facebook this morning.  I thought I'd share it here, because... well, it speaks to the broader aspect of that first question -- which is, of course, why take pictures at all? -- and because it moved me to tears. I also loved what Joyce said about it: This is, she said, "an incredible example of giving what we do rather than what we have."  An opportunity for which many of us hunger, I suspect.


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