The best part of any trip surely is in the planning. Anything is possible, success guaranteed, and all the exhaustive details, the wearisome driving, the expense, the long miles of nothingness or the sudden claustrophobic panic of heavy traffic on unfamiliar roads, are relegated to an unforeseeable future. A sort of time travel exists when deep in the art of planning, an effortless leap from origination to destination without the messy middle ground. Even the mundane things, the endless lists, the penciled reminders, the growing piles of books, maps and paraphernalia, are imbued with the magic of potential. True, reality can kick the teeth out of any plan no matter how finely honed, but that comes later. For now every idea or suggestion glimmers with its own sorcerous enchantment.
This concept has been forming for some time, a slow evolution in part fueled by something I read last week and in part by ruminations on my recent codgernautical voyage across portions of the West. For here is my confession: I almost did not go. The exigencies of work, a pending remodeling job, finances, an innate penchant for reclusion and a preference above all for my wife’s companionship (and that of our rabbit, Sheba), were all invisible anchors chaining me to the hearth. If not for a desire to see historic sites I’d read about and imagined as well as having a relatively new camera and lenses to capture those visions—to create art, if you will—I might well have stayed home.
And gained—what? Nothing I can think of. Oh, I would have been there when lightning hit the house and fried the air conditioner, furnace and stereo system, and I could have supervised the contractor a little better than did my wife so that the new electrical outlets were, shall we say, plumb (though their lack of lateral solidarity certainly matches everything else in our century-old home), and when hellish storms threatened life and limb I would have been there to do my manly duties as protector and comforter, so in some ways my presence would have been beneficial. I’d certainly have more money in the bank. But I would not have that photo of snowy Mount Moran and the sweeping curve of the Snake River, among others.
For I found it’s easy to get to the Tetons but much harder to leave them behind. It’s tempting to say this is really about photography but I think it goes deeper than that. Certain images remain with us for the entirety of our lives, if not in print or pixel form then in the deeper recesses of our consciousness. They become us and we become them. Photography just happens to be my medium and my passion, an evolutionary process in my becoming the man I want to be. And art, well, art is what we make of it, our personal expression generated by whatever means, be it canvas and paint, pencil and paper, disposable film camera or expensive digital single-lens reflex system. Don’t let the snobs tell you different: if the image you created pleases you, it’s art.
I returned with what I consider the best work I’ve ever done. The realization that I almost didn’t go sends a shiver down my spine whenever I view the images. It casts a shadow impossible to dispel by light, a sort of afterimage or negative effect, and while at first this bothered me, it now stands as a cautionary note or warning.
Chase Jarvis, a professional photographer, recently wrote a similar thread on his blog. He had just cranked out 14 days of hard work in locales as diverse as Seattle, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Buenos Aires and Chile, when he finally found time to sit at the bar and relax. “Melting,” he called it, bonding with a glass of the local wine, when in comes an agent and a model for a casting call he’d forgotten about. Seeing the fatigue written on his face, Jarvis’ producer and art director agreed to do the shoot for him. Off they went, leaving him to unwind until his conscience got the better of him.
He hurried upstairs with his camera. “Fifteen clicks,” he wrote. “The model genuinely comes to life, as do I, and 30 seconds later—literally 30 seconds later—it's the best art I've made in a long while.”
The point, he said, is this: “If ever given the chance to go or not to go, for the sake of making art, you should always go.”
And I almost did not go.
Allow me to amend the idea slightly. While the act of going is certainly paramount and the making of art doubly so, at least for photographers or other dreamers, for the sake of making memories you should always seek a new adventure. Take a different route, discover an out-of-the-way historical site or quaint shop, lollygag, look around, pay attention. If you’re a photographer, do your best to capture one iconic image that sums up everything about the trip. Don’t just go—seize memories.
Once again I find myself almost overwhelmed in the planning stages for a family reunion in another state. It comes down to this: juggling schedules, the scramble to find a suitable replacement for one of my part-time jobs, financial concerns, questions over whether to take Sheba or let her stay and the sudden realization that our route could be slightly amended to include a ghost town on the lower slopes of Raton Pass and the shell of an old mission church I’d always wanted to photograph but, honestly, forgot about. If given the chance... I’m going.