August 16, 2007

As soon as you put a border on it, it's gone..

Where there is a slight rise in the road the drone of the motor becomes heavier. We top the rise, see a new spread of land before us, the road descends and the drone of the engine falls away again. Prairie. Tranquil and detached. Later, when we stop, Sylvia has tears in her eyes from the wind, and she stretches out her arms and says, "It's so beautiful, it's so empty."
John gets his camera out. After a while he says, "This is the hardest stuff in the world to photograph. You need a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree lens, or something. You see it and then you look down in the ground glass and it's just nothing. As soon as you put a border on it, it's gone."

Sylvia says, "Once when I was about ten we stopped like this by the road and I used half a roll of film taking pictures. And when the pictures came back I cried. There wasn't anything there."
-- Robert Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

This, I suppose, is somewhat the way I often feel about taking pictures myself. "As soon as you put a border on it, it's gone." 'It'? What 'it'? If I had to sum up what this 'it' might be for any one photograph -- the sum of all the missing parts and facets -- the descriptions might run to unprecedented length and still fall short of achieving anything towards providing a more 'complete' rendering. A photograph is no more than a small window cut out of time and space, a framed outtake, leaving most of the reality it is attempting to record behind and only offering a hardly satisfying version of the real experience. It is for each one to consider for themselves whether something is indeed better than nothing at all, whether a photograph -- which can ultimately only provide a horribly scaled down two-dimensional image standing for a real-life experience (where instead of a piece of paper or a computer screen the earth and sky were the only boundaries) -- whether such a thing may hope to find some sort of justification.
For my part, I believe that there are exceptions to every rule, that frames and borders can sometimes delimit and show, enhance and add meaning, point out and draw attention to things which might otherwise have slipped by unnoticed, unrecognized, unappreciated. No, I don't consider taking pictures a futile undertaking, though it is often impossible, or very nearly so, to capture in a single frame the essence of a special moment or perhaps a unique combination presented by the everchanging nature of our surroundings..
However, in case one possesses the capabilities, the dexterity and the necessary technical skills, and at the same time happens to stumble on a bit of luck (which so often determines the outcome), the final product may be worthwhile: one may be able to at least imagine what the real world looked like out there when that picture was taken. In other words, even though a photograph may only provide a tiny taste of a real experience, in my opinion it is often far better than having nothing at all. After all, our memories tend to fade so fast..

. . .

The following are a quick pick of fifteen or so pictures out of a total of over a thousand taken during a three-week hike through the Spanish/French Pyrenees.

First of all, the mountains themselves:

A few water pictures..

(Yes, I know. Won't happen again.)

Sometimes it's a little detail that catches your eye, and you forget all about the grandeur of the peaks around you and concentrate for a moment on something completely ordinary -- a fallen-in wall, a dried up stream bed, the edge of an ice-field receding into the water..

Any visible signs of human work are few and far in between. To be sure, there were days when we would meet a fellow hiker on every step of the way, other days not a soul was to be seen.

And yes, you get a bonus picture of me :)

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