Just Be There

This is a photo blog post...that will not feature a photo. To prove a point:  Sometimes - the photo you don’t take is the one that matters most.

Hey.  Folks.  Stop taking pictures.  Stop making grainy camera phone videos.  Just stop it.  All of you.  Everyone.  Just put your iPhones down and store your Instagram “filters” somewhere they won’t get scratched and dusty. 

Just for a few moments at least.

I’ve been prompted to write this by two things.  Well technically - its a whole bunch of little incidents snowballing into a general feeling - BUT - these two things really catalyzed my words.

The first incident occurred when I was at a Foy Vance concert at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles the other night. I was watching the show - and while I was trying to watch the show - I was forced to watch other people around me watch it through their phones. (“Forced” - even if only for a second - because they held a glowing object up in front of my face in an otherwise dark room) And - it ruffled my proverbial feathers.  I had no idea who this guy on stage was - I was invited last minute by a dear friend whose musical taste I implicitly trust...and I was really loving the discovery that this music was exactly what I didn't know I needed that night.  It was such a small venue that any attempt to “capture the moment” seemed more in danger of destroying the moment.  And I was actually offended by those trying to bring the outside world at large into this simple, small space.

And then...the lead singer said the same thing I was feeling.  He was about to play an encore...and it was a song he never played live in front of an audience before and he didn’t want it leaking on YouTube.  So he asked everyone not to record it...and then asked everyone to “police” everyone else - calling upon the collective audience to keep each other honest.  And...you know what? 

It was magical.

When all the people in the room ceased trying to defy the laws of physics by attempting to be in two places at once...when everyone gave over to simply being present where they were - the entire dynamic of the room shifted.  It became communion.  It became special.   The group sang together - to a song very few knew. We learned the chorus together in that moment by listening. No one tried to photo brag ("Look!  My life is cooler than yours!!") about it to the outside world via “social” media, everyone just bathed in the simplicity of sharing four small walls with a few hundred strangers united by music and moments.  And that was enough.  And - as much as I wish I wasn’t writing about it now - I write about it because it was so rare to experience these days.  It was so lovely to see everyone in that room agree to abandon trying to capture something for the future in favor of experiencing it in the now. Together.

AND...

The second thing that has prompted this babbling is that I have been spending some serous time (and THOUSANDS of files) photographing weddings. 

Weddings are fascinating. 

A couple of people spend all this time, money and energy to stand together in nice clothes and look at each other in front of all the people who matter the most in this world to them collectively as a couple.  They do this simply so they can stare each other in the eye and say: “Above all others.  I believe in YOU.  I gamble on YOU. And I want to tell our entire community that.”

In private - those two people have discovered each other.  Just try to count all the little inside jokes and shared experiences that lead to a marriage proposal. Envision the many frustrations around the misunderstandings about each others' families and pasts and differing views...and how much effort it took to push through those things together.  Imagine the long list of their favorite date nights.  Smile in recognition at their usual order from their favorite Thai restaurant. Breathe into the heaviness required in giving over to each others' deepest vulnerabilities and fears.  Eavesdrop on the late night talks about faith, and God, and fathers and mothers and futures. And imagine how they speak in hushed wonder of their dreams and hopes for their life together - when its just them...in the last small moments of the day.  See the reality of what marrying your life together - your whole life - truly means.  And know that all of this happened for them in a world only these two people know.  And in that privately shared world - they found a bond worth publicly solidifying.

For life.
And they invited YOU to witness that moment.

These are huge moments.  These are LIFE ALTERING moments.  Literally.  The participants even have to go sign a government mandated piece of paper that says they are a new entity after these moments.  How many moments in life require this much of those involved? 

And -  as I photograph these weddings...I consistently see the same thing. 

EVERYONE  is watching the wedding through the divide of a device. 

Everyone is shooting video and snapping pictures with cell phones and shitty cameras, and - even - the dreaded iPad.  (I don’t know why - but the absurdity of the visual created by holding an iPad up in front of one’s face at arms length to take a picture just hits me hard in the funny bone for some reason...)  

Everyone is watching their life through a screen these days...and - the actual moment is happening live, in front of them - never to exist again.  No matter how many bytes it gets digitally recorded into, how many angles it is captured from, how quickly it racks up “likes” on Facebook...it will never be the same as the actual moment it happened. 

Life is happening now - and “now”, for some precious, magical reason - can never be fully captured by anyone not fully IN the now. 

NOW will never be again.  And you’re missing it...because you’re trying to keep it. 

To show it. 
To prove it.
To prolong it.

Look - I know this is silly and hypocritical of me to write.  (Especially in a blog. ; ) I’m one of those always BEHIND the lens...admonishing you to get out from behind the lens.  But I’m speaking as much as a reminder to myself as to you.

And I’m speaking as an intervening friend.  Not a snob. I don’t think anyone has a unique ownership over capturing moments.  BUT - in these rare, big moments - sometimes professionals take the bullet so you don’t have to. We record the moment so you can actually experience it.

I’ve been shooting for 20 plus years.  And I made myself stop for extended periods of time over those years when I realized I was seeing moments of my life for the first time...in the darkroom.  I remember looking at the negatives I had just developed (Yes - I'm that old...) and not remembering experiencing those moments in real life.  And - it wasn’t the drugs of my youth.  It was simply me being so excited about capturing the moment...that I missed the moment. 

And that’s just dumb.

So...let me urge this of you: That magnificent sunset? Just look at it this time.  Ignore the impatient twitching that will inevitably happen in your trusty trigger finger.  It will pass.  Just ride it out.  Just live through that moment of discomfort where you NEED to show and tell everyone exactly what’s happening in your world in order for it to be valid. Just...let it happen. To you alone.  For you alone.  In YOUR own world.  Let it be sacred for only you this once.  Feel the difference in the changing light on your skin.  Breathe the air.  See how the shadows move.  Really take in that somber and noble transition from blue, to yellow to orange to pink to purple to black.  Wonder about how it happens. And think about how every person on this planet has done the same wondering at this fading light of dusk at one time or another in their life.  And think about how - because of this colorful ball of light splashing paint across the sky daily - you’re connected to the universal through your individual experience.  Watch the first star come out.  Think about all the days of your life that you’ve watched this same sun rise and fall on this magical world. 

And make a wish...

But don’t tell anyone about it. 

Do it for you.  Do it for what it does to your heart and your mind and your humanity. 

Just be there.  And feel it. Now. 
And I’ll try to do the same. 

At least...every once in a while...