Imogen Cunningham once sanswered the question, Which of my photographs is my favorite? with the answer: The one I’m going to take tomorrow. I would add that my favorite photographs are the ones I have not taken, the moments I have missed for any number of reasons. Last weekend I was in a beautiful spot, a place that means a lot to me, with my DSLR and it was the golden hour. That light is my favorite, coupled with a cool breeze off the salt water and long, glowing shadows. My DSLR was dead. I had left the battery charger at home. What did I do? There was nothing to be done. All the photographs I could have taken would have been great. But instead of worrying about it, I sat with my friends, ate dinner, let the breeze and the light settle in around us, appreciated the beauty of the moment. None of it captured. Someone said to me, how could this happen, you are a professional! My answer is this: maybe it happened so I could enjoy the moment, be in it. The need to photograph never leaves me and rarely am I in situations where I can’t make a photograph if I see one. Last weekend made me think about all the photographs I have missed–the ones I remember more clearly than many of the ones I have actually taken: my Grandmother in her 90’s, hair awry looking like Albert Einstein. I was visiting her in the nursing home, the last time I saw her and I was out of film. Dead out. But I will always remember the few hours I spent with her, how she drank from her water-glass carefully and how the light bounced and glowed all around her. Another time, a drive up a valley in Montana, again the golden hour. Camera malfunctioning, trying to get it to work, missing the view, finally giving up on the idea of a photograph. And I will never forget that drive, the river and the mountains, the light a symphony. Another time, a friend playing a concert, beautiful light on stage, and I could not load the film without making too much noise. And there are so many others.
Why is that need so urgent to go after the moment? Technically every photograph is a moment but certainly one can’t capture every one. In the past few years, I have been taking fewer and fewer photographs and want each one to count. This is contrary to my belief as an educator when I tell students, shoot away, the beauty of digital is that we can. You can edit later! Now, this summer in particular, I am rethinking this philosophy. Maybe editing while shooting is better. Maybe being in the moment more and capturing the moment less is better. I know that I can’t do both. Some people can. I can’t. If I am experiencing the moment, I can’t be photographing it. My daughter knows this best: there are very few photographs of her blowing out birthday candles, hitting a home run, opening her presents on Christmas morning. I wanted to experience those times with her, not be behind a camera.
And in the spirit of this rant, I have a confession: I have just never been very good at any kind of “moment” photography. It is why I like long exposure pinhole photography and photographing at night so much. So, I am setting the featured image for this blog post of a photograph that my Grandmother took of her three sons playing baseball. I am sure it was a sweet moment for her. Late in the day (oh the golden hour), work done, an all American moment. She was good at capturing those, so was my father. I know I have inherited the photography gene from them. It has just mutated a bit in me.