It is, as the saying goes, a mission for my son to get out of the house alone with the wheelchair. The preparation and energy involved is enough to exhaust anyone before they reach the gate, so Christmas morning, as the light was perfect, we spent a couple of hours in the car, stopping in every conceivable place with the camera. Sometimes a helping hand with transport can be useful. We didn’t go far… he lives five miles away and we simply came the long way home to my village.
But you don’t need to go far to get a good picture, as Nick has been proving the past few days. Being without his decent camera while it was away for repair, he had been learning the theory of photography. This isn’t as simple as it sounds, of course, when you have double vision that bounces constantly, and requires real dedication and perseverance.
But having to rely on his cell phone camera made him think about the content and potential of the shots far more than if he had simply been able to snap away to his heart’s content. The lack of the camera, therefore, though frustrating, proved to be a very good thing. Within the technological marvel that is a good camera resides someone else’s understanding of photography… a whole package of settings and presets mean that even the least knowledgeable of us can potentially produce a good picture. You don’t really need much in the way of understanding to make it look as if you know what you are doing. To learn how to do this for yourself is a different thing.
But theory is just that… learning by rote. Anyone can study the theory… though perhaps, to learn it, there has to be a desire to understand… a desire that shifts the gears and makes the learning come to life. Then, of course, once a threshold of understanding is reached you are going to have to make a decision… leave it as acquired knowledge you can simply talk about to look good… or actually do something with it… create something new and unique … put it to use in reality.
As soon as you do that you are making a statement… this is how you see the world. Other photographers may criticise …. “you should have used a higher ISO… this setting.. that adjustment…..” and they may be right. They may speak from the benefit of years of practical experience and be genuinely helpful…or they may speak through a blindness imposed by habit and their own preferences and fail to see that another can have a different vision. Either way you can learn from them… either way they have something to teach.
What they cannot teach, however, is your vision. They may show you a way to express it… they might give you the keys to unlock the potential of an image… but only you, the photographer… the artist… can know how close you have come to capturing your intent in that image… only you can know if it is just a good image or a fragment of your inner heart made visible.
Sometimes you take a picture because there is something in that scene that attracts you… an indefinable quality that tells you there is something there… You may take many pictures in the hope of capturing that ‘something’… and it may yet remain elusive.
You may have to let it go, knowing you have touched a quality you will now seek… or you may be able to uncover it by editing the photo.. putting yet another layer of personal vision, another lens or filter over the image in order to make that ephemeral quality visible… even for yourself. You may find at this stage that there were surprising details in the image that you had missed when looking through the lens.
There are some who have, it seems, a gift and progress rapidly beyond the basics.Then again there are those who simply see, and without technical or theoretical knowledge manage to capture something of the ephemeral beauty of the world almost by instinct. There are scenes that move you deeply in reality, perhaps by some intangible quality of light, that seem flat and boring as a captured picture, yet still serve to remind you of a moment in time, even though other eyes will not see what you felt… they were not ‘there’.
You can seek high and low for that perfect image, only to find it was in your own back yard, silently waiting for you all along to see it there. You may have passed it a thousand times before you notice it, blinkered by the assumption that you know where you are.
Photography is such a good analogy for our own quest for the Light. We can learn by rote as much as we like. Study is a good starting point… the knowledge passed on by others who have walked that path before is invaluable as a guide… but many never get beyond that, becoming bogged down in dogma and doctrine. We can lose ourselves in the intellectual pursuit of knowledge, but until we put that into practice it remains the recycled viewfinder of another’s perception. There are many too who, having learned the theory can speak with authority…. yet know nothing of how it feels to hold a camera. They do not know because they never left the sphere of the mind.
We can set out on that journey seeking something indefinable that expresses what we feel within. We may take a thousand ‘shots’ before we find something that feels right. We may capture only fleeting glimpses of the vision we seek…yet those glimpses born of practical experience… of living… hold a vivid, vibrant quality that is real. Others may tell us we are wrong, that there is a better way… a proven way… but though the guidance may be invaluable, it is not the same as learning through experience to find our own expression.
There comes a moment, too, when we realise that no matter how many exotic locations we may have explored to seek for that perfect image, the one that holds a thousand words, that makes our soul sing and opens a vision of a world beyond the ordinary, we are just as likely to find that perfection in our own back yard… the place that we call home. It was there, silently waiting for us to notice, all the time.
* All the images in this article are by my son, Nick Verron.