Life Through a Lens
started bringing a digital camera along with me on trips maybe only a year or two ago, mostly in case I lost touch with a certain space. I wanted to show myself, look, this is a reflection, a different angle on a memory that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t there. This is not necessarily something words can say. This is who you are.
On the surface, dragging a bunch of digital camera gear out into the natural world can seem to be a bit of a contradiction in terms, if not outright stupid — it’s hard not to feel like a bit of a lummox lugging a DSLR on a day hike or across a big sandy beach, let alone on any sort of overnight peregrination. This begs the questions: is where you are and what you see not enough? Do you have to bring along that toy, too?
It’s something I’ve struggled with a lot. For me, being outside has always been a peaceful, quiet, mental thing. I don’t typically do well with lots of people around and like to leave the rest of the world behind as much as I can, especially when it comes to technology — which is why I was initially apprehensive about getting into the whole shooting-photos-outside thing.
In a sense, you’re bringing along a whole different world, one in which you have to think about batteries and memory cards that on paper don't seem to have a place in nature. There’s a conflict of interest with the very devices themselves — they’re about as natural as a bucket of iPads, complete with little lights and screens and enough buttons to confuse a submarine skipper.
In actuality, I’ve learned to walk the line. It’s possible to bring a digital camera along with you, use it for what it’s good for, and not become infatuated with it and lose your connection with your surroundings.
It’s important to remember to never lose sight of nature as exactly what it is, because as soon as the photograph becomes more important than the actual experience, you’ve lost track of what matters most. We can capture images these days that let us experience nature in ways that we can’t see with just our own eyes, but it goes both ways — photographs are no substitute for living in a moment.
People experience nature on different levels, but it seems like this sort of thinking could apply to all of them. Some folks find satisfaction with car camping and beers while others need to put at least 20 miles between themselves and the nearest human.
There are photos to be had in each of these situations, and shooting will teach you to see and interpret your surroundings in different, beautiful ways. But it’s still important to take the camera for what it is — a fabricated asset to your reality.
As Alfred Eisenstaedt once put it, “It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”
Same goes for your surroundings outside. Take photos, lots of them; capture what words can’t say and forever seal up your experience; but don’t forget to have that experience in the first place. [H]
Benjamin Dodd is an often wandering artist working in photography, graphic design, and drawing and painting.
He's crossed the US three times, visited 42 states and lived in six of them.
Give him a follow on Instagram.
Images © Benjamin Dodd