When you reach this grizzled age—I’ll be sixty in a couple of weeks—everything seems like a life lesson. Or maybe it’s just that all the lessons that life’s been trying to teach me have become unavoidable.
Whatever the case, I came across this line the other day while reading The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht:
“If you’re making your journey in a hurry,
you are making it poorly.”
I love this idea.
Years ago Calvin Trillin wrote about his father’s obsession with “making good time” on his family’s annual vacation excursion. The introduction of affordable automobiles, consistent road standards and, finally, the creation of the interstate highway system—advances that gave us greater control over the whens and wheres of our travels than we’d ever had before—made travel more about “making good time” than about the scenery along the way. It’s even a joke, as in, “He knew he was lost, but he was making such good time that he wouldn’t stop to ask for directions.”
For those of us inclined to take a closer look at things, the journey’s every bit as important as the destination, maybe even more so. You have some idea of what awaits you at a destination. It’s what happens before you get there that surprises you.
Air travel, for example, eliminates all the opportunity of what comes between origins and destinations. Where’s the adventure in that? You step from one jetway into the plane and then back out into another jetway, as if you did nothing more than fly from one concourse to another.
Trains are pretty good when it comes to examining things. You cover a lot of ground. The windows are big. Plus, trains tend to follow the old roads and back sides of towns. There’s a lot to see. But your opportunities to stop and examine things closer are obviously limited.
This is why I tend to do my best examining when I’m either in a car or, better still, walking. It’s even better if there’s no destination in mind. So there’s no mandate to “make good time.” To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat, if you have no destination, almost any one will do.
The mobility aspect of the car is great. But for my money your eyes never open to photographic opportunities quite enough unless you’re walking. There’s no pressure to “catch it all before it passes.” A leisurely pace—you can’t rush—gives you the time to slow down and notice things. You can walk around something. You can see what it looks like from a different perspective. If you get tired, you can find a place to sit, and this opens up the whole new and endless variety of ways to see a single place at different times with different people walking by.
The mind boggles at the potential.
The irony, of course, is that I get photographer’s block just like writers get writer’s block. I’ll have no interested in anything. I won’t see a reason to go out and explore.
But if I summon the energy to pick up the camera, get in the car and drive to a place where I can sit and let my mind relax enough to become attuned to my surroundings, I will inevitably come up with something to photograph.