One of my favourite activities is photographing flowers. I’m not sure why it means so much to me to be photographing rather than just looking and smelling them, but it somehow feels satisfying. I can’t even say that it necessarily gets me looking more closely at them as such, as after a while, I am happily snapping away at whatever looks good through the viewfinder. Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself to take a fresh look, choose more interesting angles and generally make my shots count more, especially when I am using a fast digital camera with a seemingly endless memory card. Even so, the enjoyment is there whether I slow down or not.
Something a little different from just looking with my eyes is going on. It is more like I am somehow sharing in the essence of the flower, communing with it, fusing with it’s very beingness. The results of this fusion come across in the photo. This is true perception, in which the space between me and the flower, the observer and the observed, melts away.
For a moment, I am the flower, that bright, colorful spark of existence before me, with its intricate designs and echoes of cosmic melodies. It’s a deep thing, that could be spoken of at length, but at the same time it’s an everyday thing, in the sense of being possible at any time. “The wild flower in the field is there, whether you stop to smell it or not”.
This is what happens when we really look at something, anything; we share in its existence, swapping our usual frame of reference for another perspective, a fresh take on universe existence, with all its possibilities. The photos are a kind of visual record of the encounter and perhaps there inspiring the photo, the more remarkable the encounter. Until we can see all as one, we will be enjoying one frame of reference after another, in the experience of universal life.
One thing I find the silence of the camera brings is the melting away of the limitations of time and space. Size and distance are easily bridged by the powers of perception, our natural senses enhanced by the various cameras designed for our use. Whether it be a nostalgic, retro look at things with a Holga, or the most sophisticated telephoto lens, people have found ways to encounter angles of existence that we&d otherwise not see with our naked eye. Of course, some people disdain such exotic perspectives, preferring a viewpoint more in accord with our natural eyes- hence the popularity of 50mm ‘prime’ lenses (or 35mm in APS-C terms).
Although flowers are a favourite thing for me to photograph, with the experience almost being sensual, it doesn’t mean they often result in a good image. In fact getting a good photo of a flower is really hard, partly because they are such an overdone genre, partly as whatever was experienced at my end is so hard to convey in the photo. Dramatic landscapes, mountains, sunsets or events often make for much more ‘accessible’ images at the viewer’s end. The same can go for people photography- a pretty girl might be nice to photograph, but an old man, with years of life written in the lines of his face, may make for a much more interesting image.
The connection between a memorable photo and my enjoyment at actually taking it isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. In fact a lot of the images that other people admire the most were the product of a lot of hard effort, traipsing to a lake at 5:30 in the morning, hiking to a waterfall at dusk, sitting through hours of tedium to get a great portrait. If not the product of hard work, they are the result of endurance, patience, steadfastness and all kinds of other virtues too dull to list here. Yet this is always the way, that achievements are not directly linked with, or the product of enjoyments. Yet every little accomplishment frees you up to enjoy the things you find most relaxing of all.