I was given my first camera at sixteen. I lived in Greece where I was born. It was a 35 mm Nikon FG. I still have it. I remember when I first held it in my hands – filled with anticipation and excitement.
A good friend of mine was a professional and passionate photographer. He took me under his wing, taught me how to use my camera, and helped me develop a different kind of vision.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, we went downtown Athens, cameras on hand. We walked around and got lost inside streets and neighborhoods I hadn’t known existed. I began to look around me with a different eye and pay close attention to the light, texture, color, and character of a scene.
What used to go unnoticed before or taken for granted, came into focus. As I lingered, through the lens, I noticed nuances and details I had never noticed before. Nothing could be taken for granted. Each moment that I captured on film, would never be repeated in the same exact way. There was magic everywhere.
The man selling ice cream off a truck in the corner, the old lady outside her run-down, pre-war house, wearing a floral blue house dress and a yellow kerchief, trying to talk her black cat of the tall, stone wall, the green wooden shutters spray-painted with graffiti, people standing, waiting for the bus, talking, walking . . . these people that I’d never meet again at that same spot, on that time of day . . . all were captured and preserved . . . I can still see them without looking at the photos.
Was that the day I began to understand how paying close attention reveals a vastly different world to us? Maybe!
One thing I know for sure . . . there is magic and beauty everywhere, even in the most mundane and worn out. Paying close attention and noticing what goes on in a single moment, makes life richer and a whole lot more interesting.
This year, on my birthday, my family gave me a brand new digital Nikon as a present. They had noticed me going around with my iPod Touch taking pictures of all kinds of things and sharing them with glee. I have long been the official photographer of our family, but this time they sensed that I was starting to engage with it in a more personal way.
As I stood there, holding my new camera in disbelief, ready to admonish everyone for buying me such an extravagant gift, my daughter put her hand on my arm and said . . .”Mom, your pictures deserve a better camera than your iPod. It is time! Have fun with it!” Did I cry? You bet!!
My daughter instinctively knew something I never shared with anyone. When I left Greece, my sense of connection with a physical place was altered. For as much as I love my adopted country, it will never be the place I was born in; the place I developed my vision and my senses in. Or, maybe, I didn’t allow myself to develop this deep connection because I didn’t want to betray my birthplace. Who knows?
A couple of years ago, we vacationed on an island and I got into the habit of taking long walks on the beach, very early in the morning. It was then that I felt the shift. I found myself connecting deeply to this place and something in me stirred. I was home again. That’s when I started looking through the lens again with the vision and excitement of that sixteen-year-old in midtown Athens.
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be seen.
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”