The last few weeks have been so busy that very often I’ve been worn out by the end of the day. By that time it’s not only my weary body that’s aching for a rest, but my mind as well – and frequently I find I can’t relax properly at all until my mind has slowed down and stopped. Even if I feel too tired to do it, I try to go for even a very short walk and take my camera with me, and once I’ve managed to think only about breathing and putting one foot in front of the other (funny how rarely we just concentrate on what we are actually doing) I find a rhythm and begin to let go of everything else. Then I just wait for the first thing that grabs my attention and I stop and look at it as if there was nothing else in the world, and let it slowly sink in.
It’s strange but I can never predict what it will be that will stop me in my tracks, or how long it’ll take for it to happen. Some days it can be twenty minutes or more before I find that I’ve suddenly come to a halt and sometimes it’ll be almost immediate. If it takes longer it’s because I need all of that time to come back, step by step, to just being myself. Other days I find I’m already there, and not thinking – just being aware of myself and the place that I’m in, and feeling a part of where I am. But once something stops me I let it do just that – stop me completely. I’ll just stand, or sit down, or sometimes even squat down or kneel to get a better look, and I swear that for a while absolutely nothing is going on in my head. I’m immersed in the simple act of looking.
The other day it was a drain cover, half covered in weeds, lit by the afternoon sun, dappled by shadows, crusted with dirt and rust. I stood looking at it for quite a while, enjoying it thoroughly for a long time before taking pictures. On other days it might be something a bit more obvious, like this clump of wild poppies on top of a wall, but it’s never something I’ve gone looking for.
I used to take pictures mostly as source material for paintings and other kinds of art work, and I still do, but this kind of photography is a completely different thing – it involves quite a bit of thinking, and I’m conscious of what it is that interests me and why. I still take pictures for lots of different reasons, but what I mostly do now is to try to use the camera just to capture or record the moment, not to preserve it or to make use of it, but just to help me focus even more on what I’m looking at, to help me go on looking and to stay a little longer in that suspended state where I’m not thinking, but just seeing.
I used to think that drawing was the only way to sink completely into what you’re seeing, or if not the only way, then probably the best. Drawing focuses all your attention as nothing else does, and cuts out all other distractions. Taking photographs does this differently, but if you’re lucky, and it works, then the pictures have a power all of their own, and keep something of the magic of the moment.