Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Art of Observation: Finding Beauty

Photography is the art of observation. 
It has little to do with the things you see
and everything to do with the way you see them.
Elliott Erwitt 
From the Part One divider in the book, 
"Sold On A Monday" by Kristina McMorris

It seems lately that what I'm reading and what I'm photographing are intertwined.

It hasn't been an intentional quest on my part to read things that are profound. From the time I was that little 6-year-old girl who could finally make sense of those letters on a page, I have read for enjoyment.

But lately, for some reason, I've found snippets in books that resonate as loudly as a sudden clap of thunder during harvest.

As I was reading "Sold On A Monday" by Kristina McMorris, I took a photo of the quote I used above, thinking there might be a blog topic there someday.

And then, a few books after that one, I read "Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness and the Men Who Could Be Me" by Bruce Feiler. (I wrote more about that last Thursday.)

As I said then, Feiler chooses six of his friends who represent different parts of his life who would fill the gaps for his young daughters in the event that Feiler would lose his battle with bone cancer. (A new NBC TV show has three men assembled for the same purpose, but the TV drama storyline doesn't have much in common with Feiler himself.)

Though Feiler and his family currently live in New York City, he grew up in Savannah, Ga., and his extended family has deep roots there. As Feiler and his wife, Linda, were making plans for an uncertain future, they visit Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah. They decide that they'll join Feiler's ancestors in the family plot, whenever that time comes.

Their visit there also brings to mind a family friend of Feiler's, Jack Leigh, who was the photographer known for his shot of the Bird Girl in Bonaventure that appeared on the cover of the book, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."
Feiler writes: In 2003, in his early 50s, Jack was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. He longed to spend his final weeks in the place he loved most, Tybee Island. My parents offered him their beach house.
Feiler obviously loves Tybee Island as well. He and his wife name one of their twin daughters Tybee and the other Eden.

When Brent was studying for his master's degree at the University of South Carolina, Randy and I took a side trip to Tybee Island, Georgia, where we watched the sun rise over the ocean.

The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water.
A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth.
Life is but an endless series of little details,
actions, speeches, and thoughts.
And the consequences -
whether good or bad of even the least of them -
are far-reaching.

It was a highlight of our trip for this Kansas girl who is usually nowhere near the ocean. I hope I'll get back there again someday.

So I read with interest this snippet from the book:
"Jack's primary work as a documentary photographer," said Susan Patrice, his ex-wife, who spent the final months at his side, "was really the work of being an open human being who could show up in any situation and be truly open and engaged. And while you're developing that skill as an artist, you also develop it as a human.

"What I found remarkable," Susan continued, "is that as we were driving out to Tybee after Jack had been in the hospital for months, he kept saying, 'Slow down. I've forgotten how beautiful the world really is. Do you see it? Do you see it?' ... He's cultivated this capacity to see."

Though our trip to Tybee Island was back in 2011, I remembered that morning as I read the words. Ironically, I was smack dab in the middle of our waves of grain - not ocean waves - that day.
Thankfully, I've never faced a diagnosis like Feiler's. But I do try to see the beauty around me.
Some days, when storms clouds are rolling in again after several days of forced hiatus during wheat harvest, it may take a little more effort to see the beauty.
But it's there. 

One of the six men whom Feiler names to his Council of Dads is named Joshua Ramo. When Bruce Feiler mentions Joshua to his wife, she says, "If the girls wanted to know how deeply you feel things and how vividly you view the world, I would send them to him."
Feiler adds:
Joshua is the one who would teach them how to appreciate the perfect panorama or the exquisite view. He's the person who would explain that even when they hurt, they should still find time for wonder. He's the man who would show the girls how to marvel at the everyday miracles around them. Joshua would teach them how to see.
How's that for timely advice in this mixed-up world we are living in today? Remember that quote at the top of the post?

It has little to do with the things you see
and everything to do with the way you see them.

He could just as easily be talking about the contention we see in the world today, don't you think?

 Joshua himself also talks about beauty:
I believe the best teacher is beauty ... What I want Eden and Tybee to know is how easy it is to see beauty. How the wonder never has to leave them. Miracles are all around them. They just have to learn to see through the clouds, and go out and harvest those miracles themselves. And, of course, I'd want them to know that this way of seeing never left you, even when you were sick. And it's how all of us who love them want them to see the world, too.
 I'm thankful I live and work with someone who "harvests the miracles" around us, too.
And, by the way, there was a miracle that day - of sorts. The rain missed us.
Even though it was really slow-going because it was down so badly after the last rounds of rain, that field yielded the best so far.
And the beauty of Creation just couldn't be denied either.

Some days, the beauty is dramatic, with texture and color and awe. Other days, it's more like an introvert - still interesting, but you have to work a little harder to engage.

Tuesday night, as I was again taking my after-supper ride with Randy in the combine, I told him, "There's not a lot of drama in the sky tonight."

And he said, "That's a good thing right now."

Yes, sometimes a dramatic sky can bring an abrupt interruption to wheat harvest. So we'll take quiet for a few more days until we can wrap things up. We made it all the way to Wednesday before Randy got the combine stuck. He'd had some "hold-your-breath" moments before then as he went through soft spots in the fields, but he'd been able to slide through or back out until yesterday afternoon.

Fingers crossed that's the only time we're stuck. (Last year, we had to hire a Caterpillar to pull us out of a "sticky" situation. More here.) He got it unmired this time. The only casualty was our tow rope. We probably have at least two days of harvest left. I'm hoping the "scattered showers" in the forecast are scattered elsewhere for just a couple more days.



I already recommended "Council of Dads."

I would also recommend "Sold On A Monday" by Kristina McMorris. My sister-in-law, Suzanne, shared it with me. It's historical fiction, and that's not necessarily a genre I gravitate toward. However, I liked both this book and another by McMorris, "Bridge of Scarlett Leaves," which is set during World War II.

In "Sold On A Monday," a Depression-era reporter snaps a photo of children standing on a porch with the sign, "2 Children for Sale." The photo is lost in the newsroom and his editor sends him back to take the photo again. However, he sets up a similar shot when the original children are gone and passes it off as authentic. The consequences after publication reach further than he could ever have imagined - with lots of twists and turns along the way.

According to the credits, the story was inspired by an actual newspaper photograph from 1931.

See? Photographs - and words - are powerful.


  1. Yes, there is so much beauty to be found. I think I frustrate some of my Gaiter Girl hikers who seem to just want to pound the trail.I constantly call to them,'Look at this!'
    Both your words and photos, are powerful. My favourite today is Randy harvesting 'the miracle'.

    1. Thank you, Helen. We have another day-plus of harvest. We'll probably try again today. It will probably take a little more than a day because it will be slow-going on the ground. We had another shower at midnight last night, but I don't think we had a lot.

  2. My favorite is photo #14. I'm kind of a color contrast type of girl. Thanks for sharing for book recommendations.


    1. Thanks, Terri! The second day of harvest this year, I told Randy I already had more "pretty" photos of harvest than I did all of last year.