I am a View Keeper
March 23, 2014 - 9:49am
"In the dark -- the incredible stillness of morning. Long before the birds, a time when, if you listen hard enough, you can almost hear the twinkling of stars. Long before color, long before texture or composition, your camera useless, your eyes at the limit of their perception . Yet still... the beauty."
Here on Molokai I’ve taken a new job -- View Keeper. Yes, that’s right View keeper. Not innkeeper, not beekeeper but View Keeper. Thoreau once said, “For many years I was the self appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms and I did my duty faithfully.” He would understand my new job.
"The first herald of dawn -- an almost imperceptible softening of the blackness.; the subtlest awareness that light is slowly erasing the darkness from the other side. Then a mosquito, suddenly as large as the whole world, one tiny bit of the universe’s consciousness here in my ear."
As View Keeper, I am the visual steward of the vista below my house. Visual steward? Within this landscape it is my job to make sure that everything is noticed; noticed and appreciated; noticed and celebrated.
As an exercise in noticing, photography is much like View Keeping. We set out with our cameras to notice, appreciate, celebrate. As photographers, however, our goal is to find extraordinary visions and capture them. The View Keeper’s goal is simply to notice everything... and hold it without judgment.
Not easy! I have been trained for years to judge. In composing an photographic image I constantly make judgments -- Should this branch be included? Would this shot be better with a warming filter. No, no, Dewitt, not the wide angle, this shot really sings when you put on the telephoto. These judgments aren’t bad, they help me take great photographs. But, as I said, the object of View Keeping is not a perfect image but simply connection and celebration.
"Under the mid-day sun, a languid breath of air touches the wind chime. No sound, the breeze so subtle that the chimes refuse to touch. Yet you can see the music in the light reflecting off the metal. You can hear it with your eyes."
Judgments help me make excellent photographs, but they separate me from the experience. I stand in awe before a breath-taking view. Then, as a photographer, I place my camera between me and the landscape. As the camera comes up, so do the judgments. When I finally click the shutter do I go back to just looking? No, usually my mind says, “Next! That was a great shot but give me another. Give me something else to judge.” Answering the call of “Next”, I avert my eyes from a view that only moments before had filled me with wonder.
I’m not suggesting that we stop photographing. I’m just watching my own process and tempering it with a little unabashed View Keeping. Looking without judgment, connecting with everything that meets my eye, holding it all equal in beauty.
Pure seeing is always without judgment and therefore without separation. Nature and I then view each other in the same way. And in that moment, “the eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me”.
"The sunset went begging tonight. Clouds on the horizon gobbled the flamimg orb before it ever had a chance to turn them pink much less crimson. No matter -- it was a celebration in grays. Pewter, pearl, charcoal, marcasite -- an photographic disappointment; a delight for the neophyte View Keeper."
Who cares for the beautiful things? As photographers we do. But who cares for the beauty of things that are not photographs. That is the purview of View Keepers.
In the movie, The Color Purple, Shug says, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.” Does a particular patch of purple make a photograph? Maybe, maybe not. Doesn’t matter. We should take notice. Emerson penned, “Each moment of the year has its own beauty... a picture which was never before seen and shall never be seen again.” As View Keepers, we can notice, hold and celebrate all of those moments.
So pick a view, folks. Adopt a landscape. Tell a vista that you promise to be its visual steward for the rest of your days. Join me in perfecting the art of View Keeping. And if pass my house, stop by. I’ll be spending part of each day working at my new job. I’ll be easy to spot. I may not have my camera out but I’ll be the one a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye.