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Sep 20, 2017
The massive thunderhead was light by the dying sun and sliding south on the horizon. The sky changed colors by the minute as the sun sank through the dying storm. I sat on a rise outside of Childress Texas looking at what had to be the most intense pallet of sunset colors I had ever seen. It was an iconic west Texas Sunset through a thunderstorm. Of the thousands of sunset I have seen, this was by far the most beautiful.
But my mind was not there. For the last three days, I slept in my car. I had just lost 90 percent of everything I owned and was a witness in a court case that could make an incredible novel. I was terrified of the future and played the events that led me to this moment of being homeless and having lost most of my possessions. I had no clue where I was going or even I was going to eat in the morning. My mind tumbled over every decision I had made over the last 9 months. The path that I choose, had led me to where I was and yet I knew that I had done what was morally right. I have found time and time again in life when the tough moral decision have to be made, so often the one that will cost the most is the one that is the most moral. So here I was, I had done what was right, and yet it cost me most of my friends and worldly possessions. My mind tumbled over the last 9 months. And it played every choice before me like an insane chess game.
As I ruminated about the past and the future, I tried to capture the breath taking rare beauty before me. Snap after snap I flubbed the most basic and easy of photos and with each goofed exposure I became angrier with myself for messing up such a simple shot. The horizon was crooked, the photo was blurry, the depth of field was off, or the composition was goofy. If fact, the photos were so bad and so much less than what I was capable of doing, I actually stopped and pondered what was wrong with me in that I couldn’t take a simple shot. That is when I realized I was so distracted by the event of the last few months and worry about the future, that I was completely not paying attention the scene before me or my camera.
That’s when I thought about the fact that I could not do much about the past and really all the things I was worried about in the future, I could not make any decisions about the future. Really all I had was the present moment and what a moment it was. The richest painter in the world could not image or create the scene before me. Not only was it visually stunning, the smell of the distant rain mixed with the sage of the plains created an aromatic feast no perfumery would ever match. And the sound of the distant thunder mixed with the breeze and a songbird nearby would put any musician to shame. Here before me the universe was showing out to every sense I had. Having lost most of my possessions I sat there stunned realizing never in my life had I seen or more experienced a more amazing moment. I was rich at the moment beyond my imagination. I wanted to capture the moment with my camera, so breathed deep and cleared my mind of the worries, focused only the present and hit my shutter. The next shot I took is the one you are looking at and the first one I published in 30 years.
The most important lesson I learned about photography is this. To photograph anything well, you have to be able to see it. To see it, you have to be present to it. To be present to it, you have to be present to the moment. That means not being present to all the other noise in my head. The future, the past, they don’t matter at the moment for the photograph.
This would change my life. As I began to focus more and more on the moment as defined by my viewfinder, I slowly began to focus away from other things such as physical pain. And I realized, what I think about is a choice. Often it’s a choice that I am not making. But when I do, I can focus away from issues that are painful.
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