Comedian David Sedaris is the author of several funny books. A personal favorite of mine is Me Talk Pretty One Day. To be honest, I can’t really remember much about the contents of the book (probably because I never finished reading it), but I can relate to the title. I find it hilarious and, hey, I’d also like to talk pretty one day.
Like most of you, I’ve probably spent way too much time thinking about how to make a good photograph. Me take pretty photo one day is a reasonable, if not somewhat Neanderthalish, mantra that has driven many of us stomping through the woods in search of that El Dorado of imagery: the pretty picture. I’m talking about a photo that you can hold up to your significant other as irrefutable proof that you had no other choice but to spend lots of money on camera gear throughout the year.
Oftentimes when I am loping after that mythical unicorn of photos for too long, my mind wanders. Usually, I start by daydreaming about documenting some rarely seen biological wonder. For you, it might be chasing a blood-red sunset punctured by a perfect “V” of waterfowl heading to their evening roost. Whatever your go-to vision is, you get the picture. I would say pun intended, but that’s just cruel, because we both know that we didn’t “get the picture.” It only exists in our head.
Do you ever wonder what might happen if we could just quiet our minds for a bit longer; push those distracting ideals of what we should be capturing to the side and just be open to the possibilities? Buddhists employ a practice called mindfulness to stay focused on the moment, avoiding unnecessary worry. Sometimes I experience a form of this when I collapse, winded and greedily sucking in air, after chasing after some six-legged critter for too long.
Almost without fail, it is in these moments of surrender when my mind is finally clear that wondrous things are revealed. I begin to take notice of subtle details that soon pull me from a point of frenetic energy to a rapturous examination of the small goings-on within the world around me. The photos that I make during this time surprise and delight me, because they come from a point of give and take.
To stretch a metaphor to its breaking point, it’s in these moments when I’m no longer talking pretty at nature, but rather engaging in a conversation with it. My mind becomes open to feedback and possibilities that I hadn’t entertained before. Perhaps next time I go out with my camera, I should just keep my mouth shut. It has become abundantly clear that the less I talk and think about my work, the better it seems to get.