When I was sixteen I was given my first camera. It was a 35 mm Nikon FG. I still have it. I remember when I first held it in my hands – filled with anticipation and excitement. I lived in Greece back then.
A good friend of mine was a professional and passionate photographer. He took me under his wing, taught me how to use my camera and helped me develop a different kind of vision.
I remember a lazy Sunday afternoon. We went downtown Athens, cameras on hand. We walked around and got lost in side streets and neighborhoods I hadn’t known existed. I began to look around me with a different eye and pay close attention to the light, texture, color and character of a scene.
What used to go unnoticed before or taken for granted, came into focus. As I lingered, through the lens, I noticed nuances and details I had never noticed before. Nothing could be taken for granted. Each moment that I captured on film, would never be repeated, in the same exact way. There was magic everywhere.
The man selling ice cream off a truck in the corner, the old lady outside her run-down, pre-war house, wearing a floral, blue house dress and a yellow kerchief, trying to talk her black cat off the tall, stone wall, the green wooden shutters spray painted with graffiti, people standing, waiting for the bus, talking, walking . . . these people that I’d never meet again at that same spot, on that time of day . . . all was captured and preserved . . . I can still see them without looking at the photos.
Was that the day I began to understand how paying close attention reveals a vastly different world to us? Maybe!
One thing I know for sure . . . there is magic and beauty everywhere, even in the most mundane and worn out. Paying close attention and noticing what goes on in a single moment, makes life richer and a whole lot more interesting.
This year, on my birthday, my family gave me a brand new Nikon as a present. They had noticed me going around with my iPod Touch taking pictures of all kinds of things and sharing them with glee. I have long been the official photographer of our family, but this time they sensed that I was starting to engage with it in a more personal way.
As I stood there, holding my new camera in disbelief, ready to admonish everyone for buying me such an extravagant gift, my daughter put her hand on my arm and said . . .”Mom, your pictures deserve a better camera than your iPod. It’s time! Have fun with it!” Did I cry? You bet!!
You see, my daughter, instinctively, knew something I never shared with anyone. When I left Greece, my sense of connection with a physical place was altered. For as much as I love it in the US and as beautiful as I find this country, it’s not the same as the place I was born in and the place I developed my vision and my senses in. Or, maybe, I didn’t allow myself to develop this deep connection because I didn’t want to betray my birth place. Who knows?
A couple of years ago, we vacationed on an island and I got into the habit of taking long walks on the beach, very early in the morning. It was then that I felt the shift. I found myself connecting deeply to this place and something in me stirred. I was home again. That’s when I started looking through the lens again with the vision and excitement of that sixteen year old in midtown Athens.
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be seen. Like Mary Oliver reminds us in Wild Geese . . .
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
All images and content Copyright ©2012 Yota Schneider | the art of pausing