There are moments. Very personal, resonate moments. Moments you hesitate to write about for fear of diminishing their significance. Because, despite their gravity, they are ephemeral, they float in the outer edge of awareness, in spirit. To put words to the experience risks obscuring the essence of what you feel compelled to communicate.
In such moments of hesitation, I draw on the words of Mary Oliver:
Tell about it.
So, I will.
In my artistic pursuits, I had a breakthrough. It occurred up Zion Canyon, along a cliff-protected slope of stately trees I’d visited many times before. It was near dusk. My intent was to make a photograph framing a tall regal maple, its leaves gloriously carmine and crimson, sheltered high up at the base of the towering cliff. But everywhere I could manage an angle of view to the tree, the composition failed.
As I moved, and emotionally let go of my original intent, my attention was drawn to an opening of grass and flowers harboring a single tree with lustrous leaves of lemon and gold. The sun, now setting, lit a thin veil of stratus creating a soft box of white ambient light. The wind, gusting earlier, had settled, and with it, a peaceful air enveloped the space around me. The white flowers glowed like suspended snowflakes. The grass shown a rainbow of green. I transfixed to the scene before me and felt a slow rising tide of awareness. The elements of grass, flowers, tree, slope, background, texture, color, and light, all taken together made sense to me in a way I had previously not understood.
I bloomed with elation. And, simulatenously, felt a flowering of doubt. The doubt is important. It is, I believe, a uniquely human questioning rooted in a need for affirmation that an idea, feeling, or experience is essential and good. Its presence, accepted with grace, affirms the elation and empowers you to move forward.
So, I did.
Intently, intimately, I moved through the scene, honing into what I perceived to be the best composition expressing this new awareness. In the end, the placement of my view camera to make the photograph was precisely where the scene had revealed itself, a rarity for me.
The image may ultimately be a failure. I haven’t received the processed film back and I’m well versed in the fact that inspiration and execution don’t always agree. But the iPhone image that accompanies this post encouraged me to write while the ideas were fresh in memory and feeling. And, even if the film image isn’t successful, something essential was affirmed — a breakthrough in my photographic continuum along a path of elation and doubt that never fails to astonish me.