Proud Confessions

| March 19, 2014

“But the high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.” –Hermann Hesse

On a recent workshop one of the participants was surprised to hear me say that in the last couple of years I’m usually only out to photograph the sunrise when I’m teaching workshops. It’s not that I sleep in, I couldn’t even if I wanted. I’m almost always up long before the sun, and I take great joy in watching the show with a cup of coffee in my hand, whether at home or at camp. It’s just that there are very few times in which I feel that a photograph of a sunrise can express much creative thinking or the intimacy I seek in my work. On the other hand, taking it in as my brain slowly awakes in beautiful settings is a magnificent way to start my day, rather than thinking I “got the shot” with still hours of exploration ahead.

Another surprised look came as our group visited a popular photogenic site and we had to work around many other photographers who were there for the same reason. One participant asked what Michael and I do when faced with a situation like that. Our answer was that we don’t face such situations when pursuing our own work because, as before, the only times we visit such places is when we teach workshops.

The thing is, we consider workshops to be learning experiences and not trophy hunting expeditions, but as some of our participants are eager to see such famous views (which are famous for a reason) and are excited to photograph them, they contribute to the overall experience. Anything that excites students about photography is good, but we never stop there. We always augment such iconic views with hikes in lesser known areas, where we are often the only ones visiting at a given time, and which more closely fit with the way we practice our own work.

Perhaps less obvious is the fact that my own mode of work is not conducive to a workshop experience. If you come to my workshop expecting to see how I “do it” you will be disappointed. I can teach you how I do it, but I can’t show you, nor even give you a close approximation in just a couple of days. I prefer to work in solitude and silence, in remote places where I can live in the scenery rather than pay a short visit. I often have no plans or expectations other than knowing that the experience itself will make the time worthwhile, whether I make an image or not. I may well spend a week in such places without ever making a single image I consider portfolio-worthy. But, I always return with new ideas and experiences to contemplate, to write about, and to file away as joyous memories.

Those who regularly exchange correspondence with me also know I am notoriously slow to respond. This is because I prefer to work in a single-threaded mode, giving anything I do due attention. I treat email the same as I treated written correspondence decades ago. I set aside time to do it and put some thought and feeling into it. When I say I’m busy it’s not because every hour of the day is accounted for, but because I set aside a fixed amount of “busy time” out of each day, week and month and when that quota is filled, I consider myself busy. Outside “busy time” I practice creative work, read, think, hike or daydream. I defend this time fiercely.

I sleep outdoors on average 50-60 days each year. I seek places where it is extremely unlikely that other humans will intrude, places where I can listen to natural sounds unimpeded by chatter, engines or electronics. I watch the cycles of the day and admire wild beauty, allowing my mind to appreciate them without the hindrance of other tasks competing for attention. I cherish the feeling of matching my own rhythm to that of the world – the real world. I enjoy a good silence like a fine glass of wine (sometimes with a fine glass of wine), the bubbling of a stream like a beautiful song, and the wind in the trees like a good poem.

I love to walk. I hate to run. I like the soreness in my body after a good hike, telling me I still have it in me.

I don’t use quadracopters or artificial lighting or elaborate technical setups, no matter how “stunning” the resulting image might be. To do so will be an affront to everything I hold sacred in these places and the reason I love being there. Breaking the ancient silence is as much a desecration as breaking any physical element.

There are days when I don’t leave camp at all. I read and write and take short walks, snapping images with a little point-and-shoot camera; and as evening falls I’ll break out a bottle of fine tequila, perhaps even a nice cigar and sit by the campfire for yet more hours of blissful joy, and find these experiences as rewarding as any feat of majestic light or “keeper” image.

There, I got it off my chest.

Wave-Particle Duality

 

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Category: All Posts, Featured, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is an author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau—a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (12)

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  1. bobwyo says:

    “Breaking the ancient silence is as much a desecration as breaking any physical element.”

    Agreed! I’ve always wondered why people feel compelled to scream in Nature’s Cathedral, when silence is more appropriate.

  2. pj says:

    I found myself nodding in agreement the whole time I was reading this post. Except for the wine and tequila part…

    Good stuff Guy. Can’t help but feel there’s as much to learn from these words of yours as there is in a workshop session.

  3. There are whole chunks of this that I’d like to use as my statement. 🙂

    And I’m relieved to know that you’ll understand my delayed follow up on our earlier emails…

    Dan

  4. Definitely agree with everything in there that it’s appropriate to agree with. Appreciate the honesty especially about your approach to the workshop experience. If I ever do take the plunge and run workshops that will pretty much be how I do it. Now I avoid the popular spots almost like they’re radioactive. But I can see the value in taking people to a few. I wonder if you add content in your workshops, you know natural & human history, astronomy, etc. It would be tough for me to not do that.

  5. Richard Wong says:

    Beautiful words, Guy. I wish that all workshop instructors / tour leaders were naturalists first as you are. Instead we have some people disturbing endangered species, defacing landscapes, you name it. They should take one of your workshops and learn how to teach first before teaching others.

  6. Misha says:

    Couldn’t agree more, especially about crowds and trophy shots. My general approach to photography (and, frequently, life) is that where the big crowd of people is, is where I’d rather not be.

    Always enjoy reading your posts, cheers!

  7. Heidi says:

    I find that I need to “give” myself permission to not be out photoing when everyone else seems to be and yet I still feel guilty about it. But you’re right, watching a sunrise through my tent door is just as magnificent.

  8. Brad Mangas says:

    I don’t mean to take anything away from any other writing but, that may be the best post I have read Guy. Thanks.

  9. Your words and images are truly inspiring. I am looking forward to meeting you in Moab in April.

  10. F Henexson says:

    Eloquent!! For some reason it reminds me of a favorite passage from Ray Bradbury’s ‘Dandelion Wine’ – “..when you’re my age, you’ll find out it’s the little savors and little things that count more than big ones. A walk on a spring morning is better than an eighty mile ride in a hopped-up car, you know why? Because it’s full of flavors, full of a lot of things growing. You’ve time to seek and find.” Thank you for sharing this.

  11. “I cherish the feeling of matching my own rhythm to that of the world – the real world. I enjoy a good silence like a fine glass of wine (sometimes with a fine glass of wine), the bubbling of a stream like a beautiful song, and the wind in the trees like a good poem.”

    This statement, Guy, and this post as a whole, are powerful and read “like a good poem,” to borrow your own words to describe what you’ve written.