For someone whose words always come easily, it has been uncomfortable not being able to put into words why I disappeared from the face of the earth for such a long time. Words, I have found, can only have meaning if they can be strung together in a meaningful way and IF they serve a purpose. Either a purpose to tell a story, to document one's life, to communicate or to perhaps ask for help. Words need to be felt first, be tested for the truth of the intentions behind them, before they can ever be strung together. Writing a symphony of words does not make it any more meaningful.
When something happens that has such an impact on your life that your life will not ever be the same again, that your relationship and your spouse are forever changed, when nothing whatsoever can be taken for granted again and all the things you had been thinking about up until that moment become utterly unimportant, words are not enough. Words do not cover the immensity of the happening nor could they ever be meaningful enough to be used to explain what you feel.
A truly magnificent oak that I photographed a few days before life intervened
Therefore, after that almost fatal summer Tuesday morning, when my husband suffered a stroke, I lost my storytelling capacity. There was too much uncertainty, there was simply too much that was no longer of any importance, there was ambivalence in emotions. To this day I can not really say how I feel, I have not yet been sufficiently in touch with my self yet to describe to anybody the depth and breadth of my emotions. I do not even know if this would help me.
It has been a humbling experience. It has made us outsiders of the lives we had been leading thus far. Something that I became painfully aware of when after many weeks without any television or YouTube videos, I logged into YouTube one day when my husband was resting to restore from his sensory overload. I saw my home feed fill up with the videos of photographers that I had been following, I looked at the titles and I felt physically sick. My throat tightened, my stomach became upset, I knew then and there that I was now an outsider. None of the things that the titles shouted out were of any importance to me anymore.
Every day since that summer morning, I have taken my husband to the forest. I know that nature and exercise are healing and the forest is a place where the world slows down, where no cars rush by, where the sky is hidden from sight and which provides shelter from too much stimuli. After a few days it became apparent that he had more vision in the forest than at home and so our walks got longer and longer. My camera was with me at all times, but just as my inability to even put into words what had happened, my visual storytelling had also been frozen inside of me. I thought that perhaps the story was better told in photographs, but to tell a story well, I have to observe and in this situation I was too closely involved to be an observer. I was too much a part of the story that was unfolding.
One day, we stood gazing to the horizon and he saw something he wanted to photograph. I handed him my camera and explained to him what he needed to do. His eyes lit up when he zoomed in and was able to level the camera, he SAW.
A very recent photograph which really celebrates a moment seen, a moment enjoyed
I recently read an article about seeing not being at the heart of fine art photography and that our vision is at best impaired at all times. If you have been through what we are going through now, you know that photography is most definitely a celebration of seeing and that our vision is not impaired because the brain decides what is most important, but that it is in fact impaired without this filter. Without it, a human being is unable to focus. You can not even read one line in a book, because you see all the other lines and the opposite page just as clearly. Having impaired vision after a stroke means that you have great trouble focussing on just one thing, which has been essential to our survival on this planet. So our vision is not impaired because our brain interprets what is important, it is in fact impossible to function well without this filter.
Photography celebrates seeing, our own filtered way of seeing. Without vision you could never envision. Photography gives us the unique possibility to make something that shows others exactly what our filtered view of the world looks like. If you just remember to be aware that the camera sees everything whilst your brain uses filters to make you focus on what is most important to you in any scene, you can learn to scan the scene for what else is there that you might otherwise have missed and you can make adjustments so the photograph matches what is meaningful and important to you. Photography is not about the camera that is used, it is never about composition recipes and rules, it is not about tips and tricks. It is a deeply personal endeavor that celebrates our own filtered way of seeing, which has its base in our personalities, our upbringings, passions, experiences and life events that shaped us. If you think you can't make photographs because you do not have the latest new camera, think again....Do you have your vision? Do you have a good enough camera? Then you can make photographs that can be rich in meaning and technically excellent as well. The one thing I never see in all these videos, is what most people do not like to hear : dedicate yourself to putting in the hours, have an eagerness to learn and the stamina to stay with it. For me it has been a lifetime dedication to the wonders I was seeing. I can therefore never teach someone to see like me, nor would I ever want to or should anyone else want to. My filter is mine as it is a result of my life.
After a few weeks, I started making photographs in the unassuming forest that I had always found to be uninteresting and messy. This forest became part of our story, it is a part of our daily lives, it helped my husband regain his sight, recover his fitness and has been very important to him feeling happy and positive. It is no longer an unassuming messy place, it is the place where our new lives started.
The messy, chaotic and unassuming forest that I had been dismissing for years that turned into a place of wonder. In all this chaos, there was order and light.
Photography has become more important to me than ever before, now that I know that you can not ever take seeing for granted. Life itself, this moment, can never be taken for granted, because it can be over in a split second. I mourn not the life I was leading, but the moments that I was chasing after perfect light, perfect conditions and picture perfect places, whilst all along I could have chosen to enjoy the moment, chosen to enjoy it with my husband instead of feeling slightly grumpy because things did not turn out. Admittedly, I have not been chasing perfect conditions for quite some time now, but in the past I did. All these wonderful places that we visited, together, and I felt frustrated because things did not turn out the way I had envisioned. All the moments that could have been full of life which were spoilt by frustration about photographs not becoming materialized.
We can not ever go back to make up for moments not lived, not enjoyed. We always thought that we would have time to do all of that, we never expected to end up in this situation, but we did and in a way it made life richer, more meaningful as it has shifted our perspectives. It made us reevaluate our priorities, see things in yet again a new light. This one single day in the summer of this year created a clean break between the life we had been leading thus far and a new life. A second chance that we intend to not take for granted, a chance that we highly appreciate and fills us with gratitude. We still have each other and we know that this in its own right is miraculous.
So, it is up to you. You, as a photographer who has the luxury of seeing breathtakingly beautiful things, you have a choice. Either you decide that the conditions and the location are not good enough, or you decide that you enjoy the moment and the place where you are, just because you have been given this moment, because it will not ever come back. You can not outrun life, you can not use willpower to submit the landscape to your wishes, you do however have moments. You can either live in those moments or choose to just think about a next perhaps more favorable moment. That moment might never come.
As always I would like to express my gratitude for your interest in my photography and writing. Thank you! I aim to keep writing these essays without sponsorships from third parties to keep my integrity and stay autonomous, but of course writing these takes a lot of time and effort and if you feel compelled to support my work, please consider buying a print or my eBook The Magic of Forest Photography. Prints are now available for many more countries in the EU. If you would like to buy a print and can't find the image in my print shop, please let me know and I'll try to make it available.