Living through the lens

by Steve Brock on March 14, 2012

Very soon I will begin a series on how photography relates to meaningful travel. But I must confess that sometimes photography gets in the way.

Case in point: The last two weeks I have tried to notice moss as a reminder to be grateful for the many little wonders in life I overlook. It worked well for the first week. But then I fell into one of many the traps related to photography: I ceased to notice the moss and became more concerned with capturing images of it. I became more intent on forming an image than in forming a prayer of thanks or even truly observing the object for its own sake.

We have an inherent desire to possess that which matters to us. It happens at auctions, car lots and high school dances. The most extreme comment reflecting this tendency came from an acquaintance many years ago who, when hearing that my wife worked at an art museum, said this: “I don’t like museums. What’s the point of a museum anyway? You can’t buy the paintings there. And if you can’t buy them and own them and have them in your own house, why bother?”

You may wince at his comment, but if I’m honest, I’m not all that different sometimes with photography. If I can’t take a photo of that clump of moss, why bother stopping to examine it? Such thinking only spirals downward.

So the last few days as I’m out walking or hiking, I’ve left the camera behind. At first, every interesting tree or moss-covered rock felt like a missed opportunity, a loss of beauty. But each retains its beauty even if I don’t capture that in an image. I am finding I appreciate the variety of mosses even more.

My photo fasting won’t last. After all, where do you think the picture above came from? (I confess: after my walk today I ran into the house and grabbed the camera so I could look at moss up close, or so I rationalized). But realizing what it is that possesses me and drives me to possess other things is a big first step.

The hardest thing about all this is that it isn’t a desire to possess what is bad but rather what is good. As we mature, our choices are far less about choosing good versus bad but good versus best.

As we’ll see in the coming weeks, photography can add so much to your trips. It can be a very good thing. Sometimes the best.

Just remember what I sometimes forget: Live life with the lens, not through it.

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