Morning After

Panasonic DMC-FZ-1000, ISO 400, FL 400, 1/125 sec @ f/8.0

Panasonic DMC-FZ-1000, ISO 400, FL 400, 1/125 sec @ f/8.0

 

When I was in Namibia recently, like most tourists, I was really wanting to photograph lions.  The only lions I would ever see in the United States are all behind zoo bars, so this was a photographic opportunity that I was excited about.  On our first trip into Etosha National Park, we found a water hole and waited for hours, hoping to see a lion.  Didn’t happen.  Lots of very vigilant giraffes, rhinos, zebras, elephants.  But no lions.  On our second trip, we did see a mating pair at some distance from the water hole.  I had read that when a lioness is in heat, the copulation frequency is extremely high.  A mating pair may copulate every 20 minutes or so for 3-5 days.  And the pair we watched for several hours must have read the books because they certainly conformed to the literature.  It was really kind of funny to watch – carloads of tourists with huge camera lens all directed at the desert bedroom of this mating pair.  The lion would mount the lioness for about 5 minutes, then collapse next to her and they would both sleep for 20 minutes, then the whole thing would start over.  This went on for several hours.  We finally gave up on getting any good photographs and left the scene but came back early the next morning.  When we got to the water hole where we had watched the mating pair the evening before, we found the male lion by himself.  The female lioness was nowhere to be seen.  At the risk of anthropomorphizing, the male lion did seem to be yearning for his female companion.  He was very restless, walking back and forth around the water hold, and periodically roaring.  He finally wandered away from the water hole and into the bush but not before giving a safari vehicle full of photographers a great portrait opportunity!

Kolmanskop, abandoned diamond mining town, Namibia

Fujifilm X-T1, ISO 1600, FL 15mm, 1/30 sec, f/8

Fujifilm X-T1, ISO 1600, FL 15mm, 1/30 sec, f/8

Kolmanskop is an abandoned town in the Namib desert.  It was established in 1908 when diamonds were discovered in the area but was largely abandoned by the mid-1950s when the diamond rush was over.  At it’s peak in the roaring twenties, it boasted a hospital (with the first X-ray station in the Southern Hemisphere!), a school, 1200 residents, an ice factory, a swimming pool, and a theater.

Unlike the ghost towns of the American West, however, Kolmanskop is located in the brutal and aggressive sands of the desert.  And the movement of the sand is relentless –  Kolmanskop is slowly being buried beneath the shifting sand.  Another 30 – 40 years and I suspect there will be very little of the architecture visible.  Being able to photograph humanity’s conceit against the backdrop of geologic time was not only a wonderful photographic exercise but also a deeply moving personal experience.

I had the same emotional response to photographing Kolmanskop that I had in photographing Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland.  The realization that I was witnessing events that had been going on for time immemorial and would go on long after I had exited this world.  The acute awareness of how vast the universe is, the deep time of our own earth’s existence,  and how puny and cosmically insignificant humans are.

I think we humans are so distracted by our own presence that we fail to grasp our own miniscule place in the universe.  It is only when I step outside my own comfort zone, my own routines, and when I witness events like glaciers calving before me, and the almost perceptible movement of sand eradicating humanity’s traces that I am able to feel the immensity of it all.  And one of the awarenesses I have is that in a very short period of time, I will cease to exist.  That humanity itself will one day cease to exist is a foregone conclusion – 99.99% of all species that have existed on earth are now extinct. It is inevitable that our turn will come.  But even long before the demise of humanity, my own, very brief, time will end.

I was trying to describe these feelings to a friend who said, ‘why does it make you feel good to feel insignificant?’  And I realized that I was not conveying the depth and breadth of the experience.  Because for some reason, recognition of the briefness of my interlude of physical existence is an empowering realization for me.  My personal identity, as short-lived as it is, is unique.  There is not another entity that has my collection of memories and experiences and there never will be.  Recognition that my time on this earth is like the blink of a cosmic eye is a reminder to me to savor every moment of this existence that I can.  It is a reminder to me to not get caught up in negative emotions or worry over trivialities.  In fact, every time I have come face to face with the awesomeness and immensity of the universe and how small and brief my time is, I have walked away feeling liberated and inspired.

“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.”   Carl Sagan, Cosmos

why do we photograph?

 

namib desert, hardap region, namibia

namib desert, hardap region, namibia

 

Image 8-19-15 at 12.09 PM

The photograph is an iPhone image I took when I was hiking, tripod on shoulder, camera gear in a backpack, through the Namib desert to a dune in Sossusvlei.  The second image is a google map of the region I was hiking in.

I’ve been a photographer for about 10 years now.  My first camera was a polaroid and I bought it in order to document my daughter’s childhood years.  But I never considered myself a photographer then.  The camera was just a tool for me to capture moments in my daughter’s life.  I have had film cameras in my life but typical for most of the non-photographers I knew, I never had film when I needed it or if I had exposed film, it was sitting in an envelope on my desk waiting to be sent to the developing lab.  Once I finally sent the film to be processed, I was usually terribly disappointed in the results – blurry, poorly exposed images.  But I was happy that I had at least a photo of whatever it was I was trying to capture.  Just like most people are with their cell phone images these days.  People are usually content, judging by the images that are uploaded to social media, that they have captured a moment, even if the photo itself is poor quality.

On my first trip to Africa, I decided that I really needed to be able to get some decent images so I bought my first digital camera.  It was a Kodak and it captured 2 megapixel jpeg images!  But I was happy with my photos, making my friends come sit in front of my computer so I could brag about my exotic travels to foreign lands.  It was the 90s version of the slide show projector.

Fast forward several years later and I now definitely have the travel bug.  Africa opened those doors for me.  I loved being in places I had never seen before, surrounded by people I did not know, cultures I didn’t understand, and the challenges of traveling globally.  I was hooked! And now, I really did want to capture not just snapshots of my travels but images that would show my passion for the people I met and the landscapes I was exploring.  I bought my first Canon DSLR, a 5D, in 2006.  Two years later, I joined a local camera club.  I spent the first few years in the club too timid to even participate in the activities, particularly the ones where people showed their work.  I just observed but I did see that the people in the club were just as passionate about photography as I was.

And I started accumulating camera gear, reading books, going to photography conferences, doing workshops.  I immersed myself totally in this new hobby and most of my new friends that I gathered around me were just as addicted as I was.  One of the things I do frequently when I travel, because I’m so curious about the places and people around me, is to become a questioning observer.  I want to immerse myself in my new surroundings and the best way for me to do that is to ask questions, to try and understand why, and what, and where.  So, as I met new friends who were as passionate and committed to their photography as I was, I would ask what I considered a central question:  ‘Why do you want to photograph?  What is it about this endeavor that you will spend thousands of dollars, go through personal hardships and sacrifices, in order to get that one special photograph?’

The most frequent answer I heard was, ‘I can’t draw or paint so I photograph’.  I think the unsaid corollary to that sentiment is this – people want so much to create.  I think the drive to create is as central to human beings, and probably as instinctual, as our need to seek shelter and food.  It’s probably right up there with our need to form human bonds and to be part of a community.

Very few people expressed the answer that I had to my own question and it has always made me wonder why.  Am I such an outlier?  Because my answer to the question, ‘Why do you photograph?’ is that I want to prove that I existed.  I was here, in this place, at this time.  A tangible reminder of a moment of my life will persist, even after that moment has now passed and no longer exists. For me, it’s almost like defying mortality.

I have no doubt that there are others who feel exactly as I do – the huge number of selfies that are proliferating on the web lend credence to that.  And I have no doubt that our human ancestors, painting on cave walls by flickering firelight, were trying to leave a visual representation of events that had already transpired.  Look at us – we gathered as humans around that woolly mammoth and we conquered!  Remember that we were here!

I don’t think I am really that much of an outlier among all my photography friends, tho.  I suspect our need to create is probably part and parcel of our wish to defy our mortality.

‘When my life flashes before my eyes, I want to make sure it’s worth watching’

Gerard Way 

 

Kolmanskop, abandoned diamond mining town, namibia

fujifilm x-t1, ISO 200, FL 27 mm, 1/15 sec @ f/8

fujifilm x-t1, ISO 200, FL 27 mm, 1/15 sec @ f/8

kolmanskop, abandoned diamond mining town, namibia

fujifilm x100s, infra-red converted, ISO 2500, FL 50 mm, 1/250 sec @ f/2

fujifilm x100s, infra-red converted, ISO 2500, FL 50 mm, 1/250 sec @ f/2

kolmanskop, abandoned diamond mining town, namibia

fujifilm x-100s, infra-red converted, ISO 3200, FL 50 mm, 1/125 sec @ f/4

fujifilm x-100s, infra-red converted, ISO 3200, FL 50 mm, 1/125 sec @ f/4

kolmanskop diamond mining town, namibia

fujifilm x-t1, ISO 600, FL 50 mm, 1.0 sec @ f/10

fujifilm x-t1, ISO 600, FL 50 mm, 1.0 sec @ f/10

kolmanskop, abandoned diamond mining town, namibia

fujifilm x-t1, ISO 600, FL 21 mm, 1/15 sec @ f/10

fujifilm x-t1, ISO 600, FL 21 mm, 1/15 sec @ f/10

sossusvlei, namibia

fujifilm x-t1, ISO 200, FL 300 mm, 1/250 sec @ f/10

fujifilm x-t1, ISO 200, FL 300 mm, 1/250 sec @ f/10

sossusvlei, namibia

fujifilm x-t1, ISO 200, FL 300 mm, 1/125 sec @ f/16

fujifilm x-t1, ISO 200, FL 300 mm, 1/125 sec @ f/16