I love wearing sunglasses. One of the main reasons I changed to contact lenses years and years ago was that I wanted to wear sunglasses. My eyes are quite light sensitive. It doesn't take much for me to squint and feel overwhelmed with light. Plus, there is no denying it: sunglasses just look cool.
Another reason I love sunglasses is that they make the world look so much better. The warm golden shade that everything gets when you look through your sunglasses is beautiful. When I post-process my photos I very often make them warmer in order to make the landscape look more like it does through sunglasses. People who don't wear sunglasses probably wonder what on earth I'm doing. Well, that's what I'm doing.
But perhaps my most important reason I have for wearing sunglasses is that they protect my eyes from dust and sand. Like I mentioned, I wear contact lenses. Rigid Gas Permeable Contact Lenses, the kind you wear for 1-2 years before replacing them. As everyone knows who uses this type of contact lenses, getting something in your eye while wearing them is just a teeny tad more desirable than stepping on LEGO's with bare feet (nothing beats that). It hurts so much you want to rip your eyeball out.
The problem I have with sunglasses is two-fold: 1) I break them, and 2) I lose them. This year alone I broke or lost an average of one pair per month so far. This often happens while I'm out taking pictures. When I stop to set up my camera to shoot an image, I take my sunglasses off. You can't look into your viewfinder wearing sunglasses. And since I need both hands to adjust the settings and tripod, I stick the sunglasses in a pocket. Then I forget about them and move along. Then when I remember them and want to put them back on, they are no longer in my pocket. Even if I backtrack and try to find them, I never do.
Because I lose so many sunglasses, I can't invest in the more expensive brands. I have always just bought the cheapest ones I could find at the grocery store or at gas stations. This leads to the second problem: breaking them. Cheap sunglasses are not even worth the cheap price they are sold for. They break just from being put on my big head a few times, or from being dropped on the ground, even if the ground is soft.
A few weeks ago the final straw broke the camel's back. I was out on a little photo trip on my bicycle. After only about 15 minutes, I stopped to check Google Maps on my cell phone. I took my brand new, cheap pair of sunglasses off so I could see the screen. Of course, I then dropped them on the forest path... and one of the lenses fell out. I managed to put it back in, but it was only a matter of time. Before I reached my destination deep in the woods, the lens fell out again, and this time it was impossible to reattach. The frame was broken.
Now, this particular day was one of the windiest days of the season. Dust and sand was whirling around in the air. It wasn't long before some of it got in my unprotected eye. It was painful as hell, but I braved through it and did my photo shooting of an area I'd been wanting to go to for months. However, heading home though the forest turned into a nightmare. First the chain fell off my bike, and I had to put it back on using only one eye. Then I got something in my other eye. I was blinded and in horrible pain. At one point I stopped and found my little spare contact lens suction cup that I always carry around for emergencies like this, only I'd never attempted to take out a contact lens in the middle of the forest before. I had about a 75% chance of dropping the contact lens on the path, which would have sealed its fate, but miraculously I managed to get it wiped off a little bit with my finger and put it back in my eye. It didn't help a whole lot. My eye was already red and swollen. But it was enough to get me the rest of the way home where, in a - for me - rare fit of rage, I hurled my broken pair of sunglasses on the table and swore I'd never buy cheap crap like that again.
As a consequence I went online to see if I could find some sunglasses that didn't cost a fortune and were better quality than what the grocery stores have to offer. My search was a success. Excited to have found a solution to at least one of my problems, I ordered four pairs - some with a reading area, some for driving during the day, some for driving at night, and some for riding my bike.
When they arrived after only a couple of days, they did indeed seem like they were quite a bit sturdier than my usual sunglasses, which means I may have solved the problem of always breaking my sunglasses. As for the losing my sunglasses part, well, I did already lose two of the four pairs in the 1½ months that have passed since I bought them, so there is some work left to be done in that department. But I am now working tirelessly to find a solution to it. Most recently, I got a little case that I can attach to my belt. If I can get used to putting my sunglasses in that case while I take photos out in the woods - and zip the zipper - there is a chance I can reduce my consumption of sunglasses by a significant number. We shall see.
Remember this image?
Probably not, but I posted it in the fall after roaming one of my favorite local areas, a piece of beautiful open land with tall grass, scattered trees, bushes and ponds. I have seen rabbits there, and herons. I have walked it in a foot of mud and snow and when the ground split in zig-zag cracks due to drought.
That's all over now. Today it looks like this:
The land is now torn apart by hundreds of dirt piles and ditches like these. Progress is coming. In a year's time this will be a new part of the city, a new residential area for families with children. The rabbits and herons will be displaced and die. The rare piece of open, non-cultivated land will be but a memory.
I just realized all this the other day as I happily walked out there to see if I could put a new spin on this familiar territory with my camera. Sure, I'd seen that they were building a few houses near the road, but I never knew they were about to cover the entire 10 hectares in pavement, bricks, and hedges.
The sight of the destruction of this beautiful area almost made me nauseous. But it wasn't long before this new realization turned into an opportunity. Making my way across and around the newly dug ditches had led me close to the old farm house that struts in the middle of the area. I had always steered in a long circle around the farm house as I didn't want to get yelled at by whoever inhabited the place. Despite the lack of fences and crops, the land I was walking on may very well have been theirs.
But now, having ended up almost in their backyard, something seemed off about the place. I saw broken windows. I saw weeds everywhere. I saw junk randomly tossed on the ground. Holy cow, the the whole thing was abandoned!
Now, if you are not a photographer yourself, you don't know that the word "abandoned" is sweet music in any photographer's ears. Few things are as photogenic as abandoned locations that have been taken over by nature. There is just something about the contrast between human activity and the unrelenting nature that makes for good images.
Fearing a wrecking crew might show up at any minute to level the house, I unfolded my tripod and got to work. This could very well be my only chance to document the old buildings and the soul whose presence I could sense so clearly.
As I circled the house, it became more and more obvious that the farm had been in a state of abandonment and decay for years, possibly a decade or more. The walls were crumpling, trees were growing too close to the buildings. The inside of the stable showed no signs of animals having been present in ages.
One time, however, I stopped in my tracks. A tricycle - the kind that old people use - was parked in the front yard. Was someone here after all? But no, at closer inspection I could see that there was no air in the tires. It had been sitting there since whoever lived in the house left for the last time.
Maybe it was the tricycle, or maybe it was entering the below little backyard that suddenly made me envision life as it may have played out when it still existed here, and what led to its demise. Children running around, eventually growing older, moving away, uninterested in carrying on this farm that may have been in the family for generations. The old farmer and his wife, working the fields and livestock, until one day one of them dropped and could no longer work, leaving the other one lost and with no choice but to move into a retirement home for whatever time was left.
The sun was starting to set, and it was time for me to leave my new discovery behind. As I walked home, the passage of time felt more present than ever before. In less than a week I turn 50 years old. If the speed with which the last 20 years have gone by is any indication - and I fear that it is - the time when whatever traces I'm leaving behind start to fade is in sight. It may not be in shape of a farm, but it will probably be in the shape of what I have created on websites such as this one. And all these images, and thousands more, that no one has ever seen and no one ever will.
But that's okay. When I got home and told my wife what I had experienced, she said something to the effect of, "Before our house was built, this area was someone else's untouched ground, and they were probably pretty unhappy that new houses were being built."
Her words stuck in my mind. The world is constantly changing. Generations follow generations, and the current generations have no say about the future. We have to accept that the world is only on loan to us. And we just have to make the best of it while we can.
The old farm house will probably be torn down one of these days. The new neighborhood will rise from the ground. I will find new places to shoot my images that few people will ever see. And one day when I'm gone, a server will be turned off and the images, too, will be gone forever.
But somewhere in the world, another middle-aged, overweight amateur photographer will leave his house and go out to shoot his pictures.
The statement in this post's headline is one that I hear quite often when I show my pictures to people, whether it's family or friends.
Usually, I quickly switch to something else on my phone or computer, or whatever I was using to present my pictures on, and change the subject. Because I know what the next part of their sentence is going to be, if there is one: "but it doesn't look like the real forest/street/beach/sky".
It's never a good thing for an artist to have to explain their art to the viewer. If they don't get it, they don't get it. Not everybody has the same taste. You can't please everyone. Yada yada, yada.... But I can't help feeling that they are missing the point. My objective when creating an image is not for it to exactly resemble what I saw with my eyes, it is for it to resemble what I felt in my heart and soul... and to have the viewer feel that too. If you are not open to letting yourself be emotionally affected, but only look at whether or not it matches what you perceive as "reality", it's your loss.
The thing is, if I look at a picture that exactly resembles what I saw with my eyes, it will not affect me in the same way it did when I was in the situation. Why? Because it's a picture! It's not reality. Reality has so much going for it that it becomes an uneven match against an image on a screen or on a wall. Reality has size, it has three dimensions, it has movement, it has sounds and smells, it has the viewer being in the middle of it.
So, in order to compensate for those deficiencies, an image must have something else that reality didn't have, and that's where in some cases additional colors can be a tool. It could also be to add some romantic blur, or make the clouds a little more dramatic than they really were. For instance, if, in the situation, the "scene" felt dramatic, but the image doesn't show it due to its single-dimensional and single-sense qualities, there is nothing wrong with emphasizing the things in the image that at least point in the right direction, such as making clouds grayer and more defined than perhaps they actually were.
Another point I would like to make is that I actually want to question the so-called reality that many people seem to subscribe to. It seems to me that some people think that an unedited photo, per definition, is closer to reality than one that has been edited. The truth is that one is the camera's interpretation of reality and the other is a human being's interpretation of reality. Do you really think that the camera's interpretation is always more accurate than the human being's who took the picture? Maybe neither one can be completely accurate, but in that case, I will usually find the human being's interpretation more interesting. Of course, a human being can completely ruin a picture with too heavy-handed editing, and I'm sure I have been guilty of that too in the past. Some would say I still am, but I choose to believe that, as I have become more and more conscious of what I want to achieve, it doesn't happen quite as often.
When all is said and done, I can't rule out that I'm just not very good at conveying what I want to convey with my images and that the "but-it-doesn't-look-like-reality"-segment of the population is right. Or that, realistic or not, the same people would totally get the image if I was just better at editing. But I also have received enough awards and love on places like Viewbug and GuruShots that I feel fairly confident that I'm not completely hopeless at what I'm doing.
In the end, I do with my images what I feel is right and what brings up the same feelings in me that I had in the situation. Whether it brings up any - or the right - feelings in anyone else is another matter. All I can do is try and hope that what I do strikes a chord with you.