As I drove down Mary Ave heading towards the highway, a C5A was coming in to land at Moffett Field, a scant four miles away. I watched the giant aircraft, looking for all the world like something out of a science fiction magazine from a century ago, float gracefully down its landing path. It seemed to skim the tops of trees and be reachable out of the windows of houses as it moved, slow and majestic, through the air. An amazing sight. 

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I sometimes think we photographers lose sight of the forest, the trees, and even the grass in our enthusiasm over equipment. Time’s coming up on another big photo product show and all the manufacturers are announcing their latest stuff. The equipment forums are full of excitement, people looking at this, ooh and aahing over that, celebrating … and condemning! … the latest marvels of the modern age of photography. Which one you’re going to buy, which one you’d rather have, what’s better than the other … on and on and on it goes. 

It gives me pause to think once more: what are we photographers doing, collectively? What message are we sending to the manufacturers, the creators of our tools? Is all this stuff really necessary to the fulfillment of our art, our work? 

I have been in a moment of doing some research on my cameras, measuring sensitivity, calibrations, etc. Studying the way my eyes work, what I see and what I notice. Not carrying my camera. The plane landing at Moffett reminded me of the time I worked for NASA and flew constantly as we developed the imaging radar system my group was chartered to produce. I spent countless fun days testing software, working on calibrations, analyzing the results. This stuff is fun to me. But it’s not photography. 

So yesterday I went for a walk and carried my camera again. I thought deeply of what my research had taught me … not much that I hadn’t already learned informally, really, but it made certain aspects of what I need to be thinking about as I set exposure more clear. I made three exposures in an hour’s walk, and liked this one enough to render it to a print. 

I could have made it with almost any camera. It says something to me, something quite special and unique, with a small, delicate voice. 

The Tao Te Ching fell out of my bag as I sat down to write this. It opened to a well worn page:

Verse 11

Wu is nothingness, emptiness, non-existence

Thirty spokes of a wheel all join at a common hub
yet only the hole at the center
allows the wheel to spin.

Clay is molded to form a cup
yet only the space within
allows the cup to hold water.

Walls are joined to make a room
you only by cutting out a door and a window
can one enter the room and live there.

Thus, when a thing has existence alone
it is mere dead-weight
Only when it has wu, does it have life.

Wise book. 
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