Photography and Experiencing the World

Longs Peak, Cloud Wave

Most of us experience the world through a common framework of references:  we walk and talk, we see and hear, we act and do.  These are very basic experiences that we all have in common.  Beyond these basics, however, are whole worlds of perceptions and awareness that we each also have, some that we share with other people, and some that we experience individually.  The practice of photography is one of these kinds of experiences.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m constantly looking at the sky.  I’m truly amazed and awed at the variety of displays that can happen there.  The image in this post, “Longs Peak, Cloud Wave,” is a perfect example.  Over the course of several hours in Rocky Mountain National Park, I observed this cloud come together.  First, it slowly gathered its shape from the formless masses of clouds around it.  Then, it hung in the sky over Longs Peak and the Never Summer Range, sometimes advancing, sometimes receding, but always delicately balanced over the peaks.  Finally, it gradually dissipated back into the formless masses of clouds from which it came from.  It truly was fascinating and awe-inspiring to watch.

It’s come as a bit of a surprise to me to realize that not everyone watches the sky like I do.  In fact, as near as I can tell, most people don’t.  Perhaps it’s the photographer in me that pays attention.  There are other things, too.  Even before I took up photography, I always was fascinated by how light would reflect off of shiny surfaces, smoothly and gradually building up from inky black shadows to piercing silver highlights.  Or how a city skyline could be abstracted down into different arrangements of lines and shapes, creating different feelings of weight or movement.

The practice of photography has channeled these perceptions and awareness even more.  Now, not only do I walk and talk, see and hear, act and do, but I also highlight and darken, frame and exclude, arrange and compose.  On some level, I’m always thinking in terms of images.  I use photography as a way of experiencing the world.

All this is not to suggest, of course, that photography is the only way to experience the world in a unique or elevated manner.  I’m fairly certain that participation in arts of all kinds probably provides such experiences, and that many other human activities – religion, sports, travel, whatever – probably do to various degrees as well.  Still, to me photography holds a special position in providing an unusually direct and immediate way to achieve this effect.

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