Like a deer hunter, I leave home in the darkness and try to get to just the right spot as the eastern sky awakens and slips on its colorful robe. Maybe it's the shadowy burden of my Calvinism, but it seems to me that, amid life's abundant sadnesses, I need to look for beauty, not just easy-chair it and hope some radiance comes along and fills my lap. So I hunt for what I can find; and, if I'm lucky, sometime I take bits of it home in digital bites that never seem quite so charming on screen as they were out there in the wild.
What continues to mystify me is why some shots are "better" than others, how it is that a certain arrangement of the materials of the composition--that cottonwood off to the left, for instance, not in the center--can be somehow "better," somehow more pleasing. There must be a science to composition, but after a half dozen years of early Saturday mornings, I'm still in the dark about that.
Best of show last Saturday, methinks, goes to a single leaf against a river made golden by the dawn. There's a story here--look for yourself. It's about a man or woman who simply refuses to leave, even though everyone he knows is long gone. It's about a kid who hears a different drummer, a student who falls in love with Emerson--"He who would be a man would be a nonconformist."
Or it's an old man alone, his wife already gone and in the ground; it won't take much more than the next strong wind to bring him down too.
Maybe it's about sheer stubbornness; the rest of the world's opinion already departed, this blockhead leaf just won't throw in the towel.
That leaf could be a bullhead or a small catfish just now pulled from the river. My childhood is there in the silhouette.
And the shot wouldn't be what it is if the river was sheer mud. Instead, it's golden and suggestive to me, at least, of something heavenly. This leaf, holding on heroically, is about to be taken to streets paved with gold. My mother would like that.
Maybe I should have to work harder at meaning. Maybe interpretation simply comes too easily becaue the shot is way too artful, too sentimental, almost pushy. Maybe some real artist would roll his eyes and call it calendar art or something.
No matter. I can't confer masterpiece status any way; only Father Time can do that work. The best I can do is look at this one, the pick of the litter, and say that, something there is in this shot that holds my attention and suggests a bigger story. It's a picture of the very last leaf on some old river cottonwood, but then somehow magically, it's that and more.
There's always room for us in art, always room for what we think, what we see, what we feel. Art is full of gaps that pull us in--me and you, in often wholly different ways.
Sort of goofy. Sort of mysterious. But worth getting up for, early Saturday mornings.
This morning I'm thankful for art's playful seriousness. No matter if it's not worth a dime to Wall Street, something about art not only keeps us human but even suggests the divine in the very last leaf on a branch in mid-November--and the divine in us, cast as we are in God's very own image.
I'll try again next week.