Friday, September 4, 2009

Sunsets and Repeated Themes

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A few days ago, Paul Lester posted his thoughts about the themes some of us repeat in our photographs. I admitted in my comment on his post that I sometimes think, from the beginning, I have been endlessly repeating the same five or ten photographs. Sure, I produce some pictures that have subtle variations in details and sometimes I manage larger changes that might briefly fool the casual observer. Even then, it wouldn’t take a genius to see that the scriptwriter is rehashing one of the same old familiar plots—just trotting in new actors—maybe even tossing in a few new set pieces or turning the opus into a period piece.

From the beginning, sunsets have been a dominant theme of mine. Periodically, I vow to myself that I will close the door on this phase and declare, “Enough. I could supply a city full of amateur photographers with sunset photos.” My effort is wasted. Ultimately, I never can resist going for one more.

The truth is that, while a part of me wants to resist photographing sunrises and sunsets and “move on” to a new subject, I never grow tired of losing myself in that splendor that marks the beginnings and endings of each day. For me, those final moments as the sun sinks out of sight are always particularly touching. Another day has slipped away and those hours can never be retrieved.

Some days end with no fanfare, and I find that touching in itself. No fanfare. No eye-filling displays of color. The sun simply slides behind the curve of the planet and the day is fundamentally gone. Then there are the days when the sun, in a last fierce blast of energy, belches color across the sky and the west erupts in a dazzling display of golds, purples, and pinks. Not all days give way quietly to the darkness. I am always awed by the drama.

I know my fascination with sunrises and sunsets has something to do with my keen appreciation of story and, after all, all stories have beginnings and ending. Great stories, (the ones we tuck away in the backs of our minds, so we can take them out and relish them now and again) have beginnings that grab us and say, “Come with me. Forget everything else. You don’t want to miss a moment of this!” The endings or resolutions of those stories are equally engaging and tend to stay with us. They often persist in our minds because they are spectacular. But, perhaps most of all, those endings that are satisfying incorporate events that are not fully predictable, while still resonating with us as ultimately inevitable. We have all read novels or seen films that were weakened by endings that didn’t meet these criteria. Sunsets always seem to be fitting endings. They are certainly predictable to a degree, but you just never know what delicious surprises may be thrown in during those last few moments.

I notice that my fascination with sunsets grows as I age. That’s probably because, like everyone else, I become increasingly aware of my mortality as the years pass. Sunsets are also about transience. No day, no matter how much fun, or how significant—or how awful, for that matter, lasts forever. These are not morose thoughts. They are simply some observations that were floating through my mind while I processed this photograph and marveled at the beauty and splendor that is there for us to enjoy each evening as one day fades into the next.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Last Rose Standing

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Not surprisingly, I became quite attached to the only rose that was spared in The Great August Massacre. Now, it probably qualifies as the most photographed rose on the North American continent. I wasn’t thinking about insects as I focused the macro lens on this occasion, but these wise guys popped into the frame. I decided to humor them.

Originally, I toyed with the idea of going black and white for this one. When that didn’t seem right, I opted for the muted tones. When you consider how addicted I am to color, I wonder what this says about my state of mind. Maybe it has something to do with all the dreadful news from the Los Angeles area. It’s difficult to manage a light-hearted attitude with the fires devouring acre after acre.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Small Pleasures in a Small World

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I am no expert on retirement. Yet, in spite of my new and limited experience, I have a theory that when one retires it is apt to result in either an expansion or retraction in the size of one’s world. Some retire from the workforce to expand their world—to travel and see sights abroad, or at least to explore their own continent. Maybe these people take advantage of their new leisure to participate in activities that were previously off-limits due to lack of free time. Either of these choices can result in a widening circle of friends and associates. There is another group who find themselves staying closer to home after retirement and, in some cases, reducing the number of activities. To some degree, these changes may not be choices, but the consequences of shrinking financial resources or loss of physical strength and resilience. The second route may mean a smaller world along with fewer friends and associates.

Clearly, I am in the second group. My world is infinitely smaller now than the one I inhabited a couple of years ago. I am content to spend day after day without ever getting off the ranch. (Our place isn't really a ranch, but that's our little joke between The Husband and me.) I spend so much time on photography that it leaves little opportunity for other pursuits. Whereas, in the past, I worked with dozens of people every week and my circle of associates was constantly in flux with new faces added on a regular basis, I now go a week, or more, without meeting anyone new. Previously, my work with others put me in a position where it was easy to become personally invested in other people's progress and emotional well-being. I willingly assumed that responsibility and I carried my work around with me almost every waking hour. I hadn’t realized how tiring that was, because I gave it my all by choice and took pride in my work.

Do I miss my larger and busier world? Yes, sometimes I do. Would I trade this smaller one for it? Not a chance. Everything in its own good time. As little as five years ago, life here would have driven me berserk. I am ready for it now, and that makes all the difference. The quiet, the simplicity, the opportunity to focus on tiny details have come at the perfect moment in my life for me to relish every moment of it. I didn’t always take a moment to smell those roses, or enjoy one of the last wild daisies clinging to summer. And, I confess that it took a time for me to slow the internal engine. My mother once chided me that I had only two speeds: off (for as short a period as possible) and full bore. Now, I am learning to cruise at slower speeds and even let the engine idle occasionally. With the exception of intermitent pangs of guilt for being a slacker, I am making the most of my time as I I stroll through more of my days.