Sometimes life is a lot to take in all at once. That’s when I turn to a hobby I’ve enjoyed for years. Photography is forced simplicity. You stare at something vast and accept that you can’t capture it all at once. You can only take in what the frame can hold. It forces you to focus. You reposition yourself to see things differently. You never ask a tree to move to the left so you can frame your shot. You have to change your position if you want to change your perspective.
My friend Holly and I have been spending a lot of time out with our cameras lately. We are hobbyists. Neither of us really knows what we’re doing but it’s a fun and relaxing way to spend time together. We each take a tonne pictures and if all we end up with is a handful of happy accidents we call it a success.
Sunday we hiked through Marysville, just along the Nashwaak River here in New Brunswick. We were taking our time, stopping to shoot whatever we wanted along the way. We didn’t really talk about what we were doing with each shot. We didn’t even shoot the same things – because we are drawn to different things.
That’s what I enjoy. When you look at someone’s photos you’re getting a glimpse of how they see the world. You’re seeing their world. It’s their perspective. We hike together and yet not once have we both been tempted off the beaten path by the same thing. Even when we’re shooting in the exact same spot – the result is different. She sees a small brook bubbling against a rock pile, still muddied with clay-dirt palm prints of the boys who played here before us. I see a slice of sun across the river like a spotlight focused behind a tree, leaving a silhouette so perfectly black and fluid it looks like wet paint straight off an artists’ brush.
Walking past an old farmhouse I snap a shot of its saddleback roof, buckling from years of service followed by years of neglect. I look through my viewfinder and I see the history of that place. I cast a family in my mind, the old fence gets rebuilt instantly and I see their young daughter walking from the house to the stalls to finish up her chores. I look at it all and a story is written. The story ends here with what I put in this frame. It ends in this overgrown field with their family home in ruins. It’s a tragic beauty and I’ve made it all up because I decided to stop and raise my camera to my eye.
Holly is less than ten feet away, pointing off in another direction, capturing something completely different. Through her viewfinder she sees a whole other story. It’s a green field; trailside bushes give way to a single sandy curve that meets the river along the horizon. It’s full of color and life. There is depth. There is room for us. What makes her point this way while I was pointing the other way? What captures our attention and earns our focus?
When I look at her photos I can see her in them. How she sees the world is right there in every frame – the same way my perspective is in each of mine. In a way no conversation could ever allow, we’re talking about who we are, where we’ve been, and what we see.
The more of her work I see, the more her perspective becomes a part of mine. I have no idea if that works the other way too – but now, suddenly, when I look through the lens I’m asking myself what her perspective might be – and that challenges me to consider new things. Her perspective challenges mine, and mine is stronger for it.
When each adventure ends, no matter how happy I am with my own work – I want to go back to where we stood and turn around until I see what she saw. I want to go back and see everything I cut out of the frame. I want to know how I missed it.
You really can’t ask a tree to move. I’ve spent lot energy over the years asking for the impossible – of other people and of myself. I’ve asked people to be who I want them to be rather than who they are, or to feel what I want them to feel, rather than what they do. They’re no more capable of that than the tree is of taking three steps left. You have to change your position if you want to change your perspective. It’s the only way you get the shot you want.