This is Not Photography.
This is flower watching in sweet, soft September sunshine.
This is the smell of the lavender filling my senses.
This is the sound of the river rushing past, and the buzz of the bees going mad with abundance in the herbs.
This is earth time before office time.
This is stolen time.
This is me time.
This is all time falls away and nothing else matters.
This is the way the light falls on the petals of the flower on this softest, sweetest September morning.
This is silence.
This is all love to the flower all love from the flower.
This is being beyond thinking.
This is loving beyond judgment.
This is not photography.
This is my practice.
This is my salvation.
This is my love song.
This is my practice, and my prayer.
– Joanna Paterson
Last weekend Andrew and I enjoyed a short weekend visit to the Biltmore with some dear friends. We returned on Sunday afternoon, and since Monday was Veteran’s Day, I had the extra blessing of a Monday holiday to enjoy. During our trip I shot hundreds of pictures.
On the way home from Asheville, I felt content, pleasantly tired from a long walk on the Biltmore grounds, and yet excited. Excited to get home and play with my pictures. Excited to know that I could spend hours with them, and not have to worry about getting up early to go into work. An evening to do what I wanted to do, for as long as I wanted to do it. An evening, all mine, to spend with a passion that has become a lure – a siren’s song – a guilty temptation that I have to manage very carefully lest I be swept away.
Photography has become a passion. It is a sweet escape from the stress and structure of my daily life. It is an activity in which I can spend hours immersed, so transported that when I come up for air I wonder where the time has gone. When I am out with my camera or working with my photos, I am an explorer, a novice, a vessel, a pilgrim. For me, it is an opening into the great mystery, and it pulls me hard – very hard. I want to dive deep, to learn MORE – more of both the technical and the creative. I make lists – lists of courses I want to take, of equipment I want to buy, of techniques I want to try, of places I want to photograph.
Over the past year, I have felt the strength of this pull grow stronger, and I have fought it. I have waged a healthy internal battle, trying to figure out how to balance my emerging passion with my primary duty. For years, my duty has been my commitment to my job and to my family, to a job that pays me well and takes care of my loved ones. A job that consumes the majority of both my weekly hours and my creative strength. A job I am fairly good at, and a paycheck that we rely upon. A job I have always enjoyed, but has recently left me sometimes frustrated and unfulfilled.
In my secret dreams, I quit my job – actually, I “retire” from my 30+ years career, and take off for the Rocky Mountain Photography School’s summer intensive program – eight weeks of intensive professional photographer’s training in Missoula, Montana. Then I jump into an intensive conversational Italian or French course, before I and my camera board a plane to Europe. In this dream, money is not an issue, bills and responsibilities have disappeared, and the future is open and simple and clear, oh so very clear. In this dream, my boys own their own futures, and I am not responsible for tracking or managing their path. In this dream there is still fear – Will my art be good enough, Will I have enough money to live? How much do I NOT know? But all in, this dream is bliss, just pure unrestricted bliss.
For some time, this temptation has tortured me. I hated my daily life, and as a result, had to metaphorically tie myself, like Odysseus, to the mast of the boat, to insure I did not jump off and try to swim toward the island of the Sirens. To safely pass by the island of the Sirens, Odysseus plugged the ears of his men with wax so that they would keep rowing – with deaf ears, passing by the island where the bones of their predecessors lay at the feet of those intoxicating Sirens. But for himself, Odysseus left his own ears clear. He tied himself to the mast, but he left his own senses open. His curiosity got the best of him; he wanted to hear that sweet Siren song.
Joseph Campbell said, ““Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” For a while, I felt the bind and cut of those ropes, pressing very sharply into my arms and thighs, while I strained to achieve release, listening helplessly to the Siren’s song. But these days the ropes are a little bit looser; they don’t chafe as much. I seem to have made a tentative peace with the Sirens. My ears are open but I am still tied to the mast. I’m listening hard to catch that joyous sound, that glorious sensation that takes me inside the mystery. And yes, sometimes I even untie myself from the mast for a short time, to frolic on the sirens’ island. But for the time being, I am still tethered, and that’s ok for now.
Yet in those moments when I release myself from those ropes, I am on stolen time. I am in prayer time, in me time, in mystery time. I am “following my bliss” as Mr. Campbell recommends. And those moments are truly much, much more than ‘just photography’.