By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
A few months ago, my yoga instructor started our practice with an inspirational quote: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Her intent was to have us approach each pose we do and each breath we take as if it was the first time. Notice how it feels. Revel in it. Too often, the things we see and do every day become part of the background, items we see without seeing, experience without awareness. As a nature photographer, I seized on the word “landscape” in that quote and started thinking about how it might apply to my work.
That opening citation is often attributed to the French novelist Marcel Proust. It’s not exactly what he wrote (more on that later) but made me think about the opportunities waiting just beyond my doorstop. While COVID-19 has been keeping us from travel and disrupting our lives, many of us began to see our immediate environments, backyards, neighborhoods with new eyes. In so doing, we discovered some of the beauty and images that were right under our noses all along. Maybe we tried some new techniques or nearby places we hadn’t been before. It scratched that nature photography itch and it took our minds off all the distressing news, both pandemic and political. Now that the world is opening up and we’re able to travel again, to visit the spectacular landscapes and wildlife we’ve missed these many months, I hope I don’t forget the photographic possibilities closer to home, or forget to take my “new eyes” with me when I travel.
What practices did you develop, what stories did you tell during COVID lockdowns? What do you want to keep with you as life moves back towards normal? Share your thoughts and we might use them in a future blog article.
Close to home
During the pandemic, I started walking the trails in Rock Creek Park, a swath of green that runs through northwest Washington, DC, and Montgomery County, Maryland. There’s a branch less than a mile from where I live and several other areas within a short drive. There are a few sections that are quite scenic and which I’ve shot numerous times, I realized I hadn’t researched or scouted the park like I would if I were going to Acadia, Grand Teton, or Yosemite. That changed during the pandemic, and I began to notice things. Ephemeral spring wildflowers, a meadow planted with milkweed so it could be a monarch waystation, the vast number of plants and animals that call this park home.
Perhaps familiarity bred ambivalence towards my surroundings and I took what was there for granted. Now I’ve been trying to approach each outing as if I’d never been in the park before. It’s made me better at planning, researching, and seeing possibilities. Even if I don’t take my camera out of the bag, a walk in the woods is restorative. There are a lot of trails to walk, so I have that to look forward to.
During the time of shut downs, travel restrictions, and COVID precautions, I challenged myself to find new things among the familiar, seek new subjects, look at things differently, and not take anything for granted. And it was really enjoyable. I hope to keep that sense of freshness, of seeing the familiar through a different lens. I hereby resolve to carry that forward.
With a few photography friends, I’m planning a photo trip to the Oregon Coast. I’ve been there before and the beaches and sea stacks are, indeed, awesome. But there’s probably a lot more to photograph. When I’m there this time, will I remember what I’ve learned during the past year and a half? I guess I’ll find out. One thing I most certainly want to do: upon arrival at a site, just sit there for a while and take it all in. Experience it. Enjoy it. Revel in being there. Be open to what the site is showing me, telling me, giving me, even if that’s not what I was expecting. Then and only then pull my camera out.
Unless there’s a brilliant sunset happening, in which case the photography starts immediately!
What did you learn during the pandemic? What have your “new eyes” shown you? What will you carry forward as the world opens back up? Let us know and we might include you in a coming blog article.
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be noticed.
Now, if only these new eyes came with 20-20 vision instead of an astigmatism and the cataracts I’m going to have to deal with one of these days.
Back to that quotation. What did Proust actually write and what was he talking about? Proust was talking about art, not travel, and maybe his actual, if convoluted, point is even more meaningful. You can judge for yourself at What Marcel Proust Really Said about Seeing with New Eyes.
Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He manages NANPA’s blog.