To see a flower

To see a flower March 30, 2010

“In a way, nobody sees a flower. It is so small, we haven’t the time. To see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

I had professors in my undergraduate days who spoke somewhat derisively of photography, as if it were a childish or naive activity. It was discussed as a way of devaluing a true experience – by stepping out of it to snap a photo. One professor gave the banal example of a man cruising through Yellowstone Park in an RV, stopping at each great vista, snapping three pics and then driving off. Another spoke more generally of our increasingly technologically mediated world

Admittedly that does happen. I sometimes fall prey to such impulses myself. And I’m sure the professors weren’t painting a blanket condemnation of photography, but simply using it as a convenient example for their teaching.

But for the most part I am more of a photo-snob, cringing when I see people with gorgeous cameras who simply leave them in “Auto” mode because they’ve never bothered to learn the settings. It is in learning those settings – on a DSLR such as the wonderful Nikon D90 or bottom-end D3000 or on nicer point-and-shoots such as the “prosumer” Canon SX20 IS – that builds a bond between wo/man and machine. Knowing your camera, like a samurai warrior knows his sword, makes it an extension of your body. 

About 10 days ago I had the great fortune of testing a new, and incredibly cheap, macro lens on my DSLR. Take a new lens, add flowers for my then-sick girlfriend, and perfect sunlight through the kitchen window and voila, time to take pictures.

For me, photography does not stand between me and a beautiful thing or person or event. The fact that I have a camera, this tool that captures moments of light and life, brings out a new dimension of sight.  One of those very professors used to like to say that “everything becomes a nail when you’re carrying around a hammer.” He used this saying to suggest that Marxists might have it wrong to say that everything is Capitalist oppression, or Freudians might be off to say everything goes back to your relationship with your mother. We humans are constantly guilty of this: projection. But with my camera, what am I projecting? Moments of beauty. Moments that tell stories. Moments that illuminate the world we live in.

Could I enjoy it all just as much without the camera? Absolutely. Just tonight, sitting a few feet from Geshe Thupten Phelgye as he discussed Green Tara practice and his great effort to bring vegetarianism to Gelukpa monasteries in India, I did have a moment when I wished I had a camera. The Dharma house, Osel Shen Phen Ling, was packed way beyond capacity and I was sure that images of the Geshe and all of these people who came out to see him would be very precious – especially to those who were there and had invested so much time and effort into bringing him here. (A full schedule of his teachings this week in/around Missoula is at the bottom) But, lacking a camera, I simply sat and enjoyed the teachings.

Can a camera get in the way? Yes, of course. But it’s most intrusive when one doesn’t know how to use it, or if it is of lower quality and requires noisy reconfigurations for each new setting. Admittedly again I’m not the swiftest at setting and reseting my camera. And I haven’t mastered each setting and subsetting. But in the situations that I do have figured out, the camera is never in the way. It is a graceful extension of my eye and hand.

Monday March 29, 7 p.m.   Tara Practice @ Osel Shen Phen Ling (441 Woodworth)
Tuesday March 30, 7 p.m.  Vipassana Practice @ EWAM in Arlee (White Coyote Rd.)
Friday April 2, 7 p.m.  PUBLIC TALK:  Universal Compassion Movement @ Open Way
Sat. April 3, 9:30-11:30 (veg. pot luck) 1:00-4:00 & Sun. April 4, 9:00-noon @ Open Way DHARMA WORKSHOP:  MIND TRANSFORMATION  Geshe-la will teach from the Eight Verses of Mind Transformation, and will lead guided meditations on Chenrezig, the deity of Great Compassion, as well as tonglen, Shantideva‘s practice of giving and taking. 
Contact Luke at 406.726.0555 to register or for more info.

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