The First Week


Looking for photographs is the most soothing pursuit of my soul. I’m just looking. At this point, I’m not trying to arrange, prevent, manipulate, control, produce—that will come later when I have narrowed my search to this clump of crocuses and have to remove the dead leaf and the stick, and block the sunlight with my shadow. During the looking stage, I’m not struggling, wrestling, or grasping. I’m simply lost in the wonder of wondering, of looking, of being present to what is present with me, and no will to exert, only the capacity to reject or receive, and the thrill of being able to create a photograph out of the elements present in a particular scene. Photography is an escape that grounds me in the present experience of living, and opens me to the beauty of life and the joy of being alive.


I troll for photographs the way trawlers troll for Haddock. I wander through scenes with the nets out, hoping for a haul. I stalk photographs the way lions stalk antelope. I hope for photographs the way Peonies hope for the rain. This is my life. It is what I do. I can’t be nonchalant about it, lazy, indifferent. I can’t wait for the mood to strike me, for the weather to be right, for breakfast to be served.


The pictures are out there, but it takes some doing to find them. Even the pictures you just walk up on take some doing. You have to go out of your way to be where the pictures are, and remember to take a camera along. Finding pictures is work. Work that is difficult to defend, justify, explain, excuse, or understand–given the little that comes from it, even if you get a picture. Even if you get a really good picture. A big part of the work is doing it anyway, going out of your way and then getting out of the way. Remembering to get out of the way is hardest part. There is nothing easy about any of it.


Photography is as much about deciding where you are going to be, and when you are going to be there, as it is about taking the photograph once you arrive. You can’t just show up somewhere whenever you feel like it and find a photograph. You have to be on the prowl for photographs like a cat after Robins. You have to think things through, plan it out, take all the variables into account, and hope that something will be there when you are. Then, of course, there are all those photographs you walk up on—the ones you stumble over—the ones that drop on you, like a piano, out of the sky. But, even those require some degree of planning. You have the camera with you, after all. You may be trolling for photos, not stalking them, but you are still trolling. You are still hoping one comes along, however deeply buried the hope may be. We’re always hoping one is waiting for us.


Speaking of waiting, sometimes, we have to wait it out. I waited two years for a photo of Price Lake at sunset to “develop” in the world of “normal, apparent, reality.” I knew it would be there eventually, when the clouds were in place and the wind wasn’t blowing. It’s only a matter of time, you know. All it takes is time. All in good time. Everything in its own time. Time will tell. So, if you don’t see it now, but know that under the right conditions you will see it, then wait, and watch. Eventually, if you are lucky, you’ll get the picture. Or, get the opportunity. While we wait, we can practice the skills required to take advantage of the opportunity when it rolls around. Photography is a wonderful exercise in seeing—what’s there, and what will be there—and a delightful way of sharing what is seen.


I know a woman whose life—at this point in her life—is feeding birds. Who am I to tell her that she is wasting her time? I am here to tell you that my life is walking through the world taking photographs. Who are you to tell me that I should be serving meals at the soup kitchen and befriending the poor? My idea of what your life should be is very likely to have little to do with what your life should be. What should your life be? Who is to say? You are! But, don’t just make something up! Don’t just say anything! Be right about it! that’s the search for the Holy Grail! Being right about the life that is our life to live, and living it!


Luck is strictly a matter of perspective. An event is propitious or malevolent depending on our point of view. What it is, is the coincidental confluence of circumstances. What it means is what we say it means in light of our purposes, desires, intentions and experience. If we didn’t have purposes, desires, intentions, or experience, we would never be lucky or unlucky. Whatever came our way would be just what came our way. What does a stature care about pigeons, or a flat rock about cows? So, luck is what we make it out to be. If we like what happens, we are lucky. If we don’t like it, we are unlucky.

Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, Samuel Goldwyn, and, well, the list is long, are all credited with saying “The more I practice (Or, The harder I work), the luckier I get.” Whomever said it first, the point is well taken. We can increase our chances of being published if we actually write something. The more we write, the better our chances, particularly if our writing improves with practice. The same thing can be said for selling photographs. We have a better chance of selling them if we take them. If we want to be hit by a train, it helps to stand on the tracks.

There is an idea afoot that doors open to those who are persistent, patient and prepared. It is generally voiced in a way which suggests that the open doors are a reward for persistence, patience, and preparation, as though something is directing the doors to open, and if we “pay your dues,” we will be accorded the splendor of success, the rapture of prosperity, and the satisfaction of having it made—with “invisible hands” helping us on our way.

Well. We increase our chances of catching fish by going fishing, by baiting the hook, and by fishing in places where fish live. That doesn’t mean “invisible hands” are putting fish on our stringer. If we keep doing what success requires, we are apt to be more or less successful over time. And, if we keep it up, we are apt to lose, more or less, everything we worked for. But, no one will say “invisible hands” caused the market to crash or our job to disappear. However, nothing is as fickle as those “invisible hands.” We can make ourselves quite crazy trying to arrange our life so as to receive the blessings those hands dispense—and avoid the curses they bestow.

I say, take your chances. Stop trying to develop a system for beating the house. Take what comes, do what you can with it, and don’t worry about amassing a fortune and having it made. What are you going to do with a fortune that you can’t begin to do right now? How “made” do you have to have it before you can start enjoying your life? Stop trying to please “invisible hands,” and do more of what you like to do and less of what you don’t like to do, and see where it goes.

Start living right now. What do you think life is about if not being alive? What do you need to be fully, vibrantly, joyfully alive? Upon what does your life depend? What is standing between you and being alive? What is assisting, encouraging, enabling your participation in, and experience of, your own life? We have one life to live. How long are we going to wait to get started?

Published by jimwdollar

I'm retired, and still finding my way--but now, I don't have to pretend that I know what I'm doing. I retired after 40.5 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. I graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, Texas, and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. My wife, Judy, and I have three daughters and five granddaughters within about twenty minutes from where we live--and are enjoying our retirement as much as we have ever enjoyed anything.

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