by Clay Bolt
We have a lot of funny names for what we produce. But did it ever occur to you that the word photography actually translates to “writing with light?” It is a process that is so familiar, and yet, when its meaning and all that meaning entails is dwelled upon, it feels a whole lot like magic. These silly little names that we call our images hardly express what they really are.
As photographers, we have the ability to capture—for all time—the essence of a breaking beam of light through spring foliage, twinkling starlight over a rugged mountain peak, the red-hot rim of fur on a backlit bison, and evening’s fading illumination of a loved one’s face. Forever. A single passing moment, out of countless such moments, saved from the great maw of time.
Isn’t it odd how quickly we take things for granted? New experiences, devices and accomplishments soon fade from our minds as we clamor for the next best thing: the latest lens, a higher peak or a more obscure wildflower. Meanwhile, most of us spend each day with more technology in our pocket than people a century ago could have imagined, surrounded by unseen nature unfolding from cracks in the sidewalk.
We capture…and capture…and capture. But do we see? How often do we allow ourselves to feel gratitude for the tools and experiences that we have at our disposal?
Sometimes, when I am photographing an animal—especially a short-lived creature like an insect—I’m struck by the likelihood that it may not be around for much longer. Its time is precious, and the moment that I’m capturing is like time dipped out from a drying well, whose depths I can only imagine. The photograph that results from such an encounter is only able to materialize after our two lives slowly converge in a single moment, over days and weeks as the insect crawls, flies or hops through the undergrowth, and I make my way to that place where it softly lands. I navigate traffic, deadlines and a desire to escape the madness of the world when I arrive in the exact position of our meeting.
Then, through the click of a switch on a small box, I extend my subject’s precious life in a sense, wrapping it up like a gift for the ages in elegant gradations of light. Time stretches. Death is cheated. For just a moment, the subject is a god: an ambassador of its kind.
We should take time to pause and acknowledge that we are more than photographers: We are magicians, wizards of light, more than just clickers and selfie-makers. We are people who possess the ability to freeze time and bring beauty to others’ lives in ways that transcend culture and geographic boundaries.
This is magic. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.