Skip navigation

Category Archives: Philosophy

There are many fine reasons for camping.  However, the most significant motivator for me is the potential to witness a clear night sky full of stars.  It never fails to prove a reverential experience for me, one that reminds me of the beauty of the Cosmos and the importance of moderation.  Recently, I was most fortunate to share such an experience with my brother and one of our very good friends.

(Ⓒ J. A. Kaufman 2015, 28mm @ ISO 3200, f/2.8, 15 sec)

The lens allows us to limit our focus onto the most salient aspects of the environment.  Per the translation of Stephen Mitchell, the words of Lao-Tzu seem apropos:

A good traveler has no fixed plans
 and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition 
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts 
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
 and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations 
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

There is wonder in what lies beyond our ready imagination.  Sometimes, that wonder shows itself, however briefly, and reinvigorates the innate drive to explore and know.

Due to a confluence of factors, redwoods hold special meaning for me.  I think redwoods beautifully reflect the concept of wu-wei.  Tall and strong, yet soft and bending, the redwood manifests an ability to grow while weathering adversity not over the minutes, but over the millennia.  There is much to learn here.

Increasingly, I have come to understand that for me a photograph is an encapsulation of an experience with nature.  It is a method of not merely facilitating my attention to the moment as I stand upon the rocks of a wilderness lake, but an almost visceral reminder of time and place.  I have come to understand that the practice of photography is for me a way to internally as much as externally document my travels and the learning that ensued.  It is an invitation to take a moment to pause and consider the myriad ways in which beauty manifests all around.  I am truly grateful for all of this.

The world lost a revolutionary thinker yesterday.  Many of us are sufficiently fortunate that our actions, intentional or otherwise, will positively affect some small number of individuals over the years.  It is as if one acts as the locus from which ripples emanate across an otherwise fairly placid pond.  There are those few others, however, who create a wonderful maelstrom of change with waves that travel far and wide and change the very structure of the landscape.

What is my photographic style?  This is a question that often arises in discussion among photographers, although it is perhaps even more common within nature photographers as they seek to better understand their own work and the motivations behind it.  It has been said that a photographer does not decide upon a style; it discovers you.  This is a topic upon which I have devoted some thought as of late.  What have I learned?

– I most enjoy nature photography when it extends my interaction with the natural environment, whether by focusing my attention, keeping my longer in the field, or showing me things I missed as I review the frames.

– I am a believer in the importance of previsualization, but have found that my passion wanes when I go out to capture shots to check off a list instead of going out to interact with the natural world and ideally returning with photographs resultant of that experience.

– I love the technology.

– As a friend and fellow photog pointed out last year, I tend to view the environment (or at least compose my shots) in a very geometric manner.

– Ultimately, my passion to observe nature with gratitude, awe, and study guides my developing style.  I do not think the awe can be ignored.

When I look at this photograph, the lyrics of my favorite poem come to mind:

Give to me the life I love, let the lave go by me.
Give the jolly heaven above, and the byway nigh me.

– Robert Louis Stevenson

As a scientist, I seek to “know” the phenomena of my investigations in order to understand their workings.  There is an pleasure to discovering some bit of information, no matter how small, that was not previously known.  I experience a similar feeling when reading the literature related to my areas of academic interest.

As a nature photographer, I seek to “know” the subjects of my work on a more directly personal level.  My implicit goal is to recognize the subject of the lens on its own terms.  Doing so in the field fuels a sense of understanding much more affective than cognitive.

I can seek to know a flower, a mountain range, a prairie in different ways.  Each way brings with it a relevant delight.

I recently came across a quotation from Galen Rowell that resonates strongly with my own photographic ethos:

I’m exchanging molecules every 30 days with the natural world and in a spiritual sense I know I am a part of it and take my photographs from that emotional feeling within me, rather than from an emotional distance as a spectator.

This is a statement akin to the notion of biophilia, an inherent sense of connection with the natural elements of the Earth, expounded by E. O. Wilson.  Such an awareness is what largely motivates my photography.  As I have previously written, nature photography serves to enhance my interaction with nature by redirecting my attention away from the self and out toward the environment.  Through the lens, I am reminded that there is no such thing as the mundane.

Yet, there are times when I find it difficult to achieve a balance between observing through the lens, and simply experiencing the natural world without a goal to make a good photograph.  This is especially challenging when I am under a clear night sky distant from by the glow of urban lights.  Shall I attempt to make a photograph, or shall I simply gaze heavenward?  Perhaps the ideal is to learn to follow both paths at once.