By choosing black and white, I have limited my response to the spectrum of available colors and chosen to measure the intensity of light, in essence simplifying my choices to subject and luminance only. I remember thinking the decision was a good one, as we soon would head out for a few days of reconnection, and the idea of being present in the pure essence of our time together appealed to me. I could narrow the wavelengths I explored to focus better on the spectrum of you.
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
The dappled sunlight falls across this Juliet balcony in the early morning hours of late spring. It is easy to see that the curtains are drawn and imagine those who dwell within sleeping soundly in the darkened room away from the rising heat of this corner of the world. I stop to admire the gentle curves of the window frame and roofline, the lacy pattern of the leaves against the white stucco and the shadows of the nearby trees. It is just before 9 am on a Saturday morning and the romance inspired by this drawn draped window has me wondering why I am not home with you.
Analog photography is a slow and mindful process, each step a deliberate choice that begins with the selection of the film. Long before my walk had started, I stood in my kitchen before the open door of my cool and bright refrigerator, reaching for a box of Ilford HP5 blanc et noir 35 mm 36 exposure film. I turned to face the kitchen counter where I would open its tiny canister and place the film gently in the camera I have selected for today. Today, I will walk with my dad's old camera, and as I reach for the app where I log the date and time of each roll in each camera, I think of him and the photos he made with it. It will be nice to walk with him, to think of him, to remember. Today, I want my photographs to look like charcoal pencil drawings of the nature that surrounds me, and as I slide into the front seat of my car, I choose to head towards the hills. My measured pace walking them will slow this day and add to the thoughtfulness of the morning. I begin with the explorer's spirit rushing towards the starting line only to have my rapid breath fall out of sync with my plodding feet as I ascend. About midway up the incline, I first notice the white rock, whose surface catches the tiniest bit of morning light and the small glistening leaves that face east and frame the path that leads into a dark unknown.
I step back to see, really see, what has caught my eye. By choosing black and white, I have limited my response to the spectrum of available colors and selected to measure the intensity of light, in essence, simplifying my choices to subject and luminance only. I remember thinking the decision as a good one as we soon would head out for a few days of reconnection and the idea of being present in the pure essence of our time together appeals to me, to narrow the wavelengths that I explore to focus better on the spectrum of you.
I pull the camera to my eye and begin to frame the wooded path, the rock, and the bits of light that will last only a bit longer. I set the speed and focus point, and then, I inhaled deeply and still each part of my body while I press the shutter. I love this moment, the still concentration just before catching the light. And, then, the moment is forever gone, and I turn to continue the trek up the hill.
I fill this day with moments such as this, intervals of movement and stillness interspersed with profoundly deep breaths and concentration. Walking to the car, I review the morning's photo count. As I drive back into town and home, I consider the rhythms of this day, slow and methodical, intensely aware, and engage with my surroundings. There are no headphones, no noise, just the quiet cadence of feet on the path.
It will be another week before I finish this roll of film, and I will be miles from home on a cliff at Los Osos State Beach in the Central Valley before I unload it. And it will be another month before the negatives and the scans return from the lab. It will be like a Christmas morning as I look at each of the precisely made photographs as the scans download and consider that I made one morning last five weeks, effectively slowing time.
The stillness dawn. The quiet solitude of a single craft traversing the lake. I stand, toes to shore, looking out over light reflected in the shimmering movement of water and tell myself a story of the finite journey of a boat to the other side.
This is excerpted from a longer article titled The Intersection of Coincidence and Providence.
My morning journal entry was the first time I mindfully wrote the words “be open to coincidence,” pay attention, and use that as a guidepost for your choices. Over the subsequent years, there have been occasions where I exercised this openness and, with each, my confidence and trust in something higher than myself has grown along with a deepening belief that I do not walk this world alone.
Last year, I visited a dear friend who had recently moved to Portland, and for this trip, I chose my Dad’s film camera. In the aftermath of his death, my mother had given it to me, and it had only recently returned from being refurbished. It’s funny; I don’t remember him ever using it but, then again, my sensitivity and awareness of cameras and photography were not as acute as they are today. The Minolta is simple, reliable and steady - much like my Dad who used to refer to himself as the common man's common man. It was unusual for me to choose this camera for this trip as I had not much time behind the lens before sending it off for repair and I was uncertain of how it would meter light, the frame, and, importantly, the quality of the photographs it would produce.
Carrying it for the first time, I realized it hung from a cumbersome, annoying and unattractive strap that, while aggravating, was, and still is, too precious for me to toss. Instead, I found myself in Portland, behind this untested camera, shooting away and being constantly reminded of my Dad by the maladjusted strap. So Ironic. He would be the first to grimace at the smallest discomfort and would have laughed at me and the effort expended to slide the camera across my chest and raise the viewfinder to my eye. So it was that he was on my mind. Each release of the shutter seemed to resonate with some memory of him.
The days were filled with activity as Patrick and I adventurously set about discovering his new hometown covering more ground in the weekend then he had in the weeks prior and prepping for the arrival of his family at the end of the month. Suddenly, and without sufficient warning, it was Sunday and time for me to return to Southern California and my husband who was waiting there..
A trusted traveler I know the routines of security well, and, while unnecessary, it remains a habit to remove my watch and jewelry before queueing. I routinely and carefully place them in my bag as I have for years, and so it was a surprise when, as I began to redress, I didn’t find all of them in my handbag. With security’s assistance, I recovered two of my three bracelets and my watch and, considering myself fortunate for having found most of it, started to pull myself together and make my way to the gate. That's when I saw it.
Looking down, one last time, into my handbag I noticed, off to the side, upside down on the ground, a baggage claim ticket. Figuring it was mine, I picked it up and turned it over to see, not my name, but my Dads. It was for an Alaska Airlines flight leaving that day from Portland to Redlands, CA. It resonated even more so because the last trip my Dad and I ever took together, to celebrate his 80th birthday, was to Alaska. There I stood staring at his name and the word Alaska. It was a thunderbolt poking bruises too raw from grief and echoes in empty spaces where he used to be. It struck me hard, the coincidence of it. Or was it providence? I'm still not sure. The sense of being off balance and falling while synchronously being buoyed by the spiritual connectedness of it was both off-putting and reassuring.
I now carry this claim check with me as a talisman imbued with the spirit of my Dad, the simple joys of the weekend in Portland, and the many times where I have stalwartly stood at the intersection of Coincidence and Providence. Occasionally I pull the baggage claim check from where I keep it and sit with it for awhile thinking of my good fortune, my Dad, and how his spirit walks with me through this life. I like that.