At the beginning was the word. Or, rather, a paragraph I read in a blog – about Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk. For those who don’t know about Scott Kelby, he is a photographer and an author. I discovered him while ordering books for the library, and he literally changed my life.
The thing is, I’m obsessive. Every time I develop a new passion, I throw all my time and energy into it – until I find something else to obsess about. Anyway, the first thing I did when I entered my Scott-Kelby-inspired photography stage was to buy a camera. For most of my life, I knew little about cameras, lenses, flashes and things like that. But when I opened Kelby’s books, I began craving expensive equipment as if my life depended on it. Of course, being a librarian married to an academic, I couldn’t really afford it. I had to settle for reading. So, today, if you let me, I’ll tell you everything I know about full-frame and cropped sensor cameras, good glass (that’s how photographers refer to good – and very expensive – lenses), flashes, task-sharp images (something I am still working on) and other things like that.
Unfortunately, none of my loved ones understands the importance of photography in my life. When I ask my husband to pose for me (I like taking pictures with a “human” element), he immediately assumes an expression described by a Russian proverb as, “Virazhaet to lizo chem sadyatsa on krilzo” or “He wears an expression that makes his face look like his butt.” As for my grandchildren, one of them begins rubbing his eyes with his fists and the other rolls her eyes or sticks out her tongue.
I persevere anyway, and the reason that I am still unknown to the world of photography is that I don’t have a high-end camera/lenses/etc. Another thing that holds me back is that I’m self-taught. I’ve never taken any photography classes, and, in fact, I don’t have anybody in my life with whom I could discuss f-stops, shutter speed, HDR photography and other fascinating subjects like that. This is why I got excited about the Scott Kelby Photography Walk. It was going to be a turning point in my photographic career.
The walk was set for October 6, which was great, since October is the best time of the year in our area. Yet when I woke up that morning, monotonous streaks of rain were hitting our bedroom windows, and the outside world appeared depressingly gray. For fifteen minutes or so, I debated with myself whether I should go. Who takes pictures in the rain? My camera will get wet. Of course, I can carry an umbrella, but how am I going to hold my camera steady with one hand? Then it occurred to me that somebody else may want to take my place, but I couldn’t think of anybody. Finally, I got myself together and drove along damp and empty streets to the gathering place.
A crowd of 15 or so people huddling underneath their umbrellas in the middle of a small park looked somewhat misplaced. Several of them were young, several had gray hair, and all carried bulky cameras. The leader gave us his last instructions and a map of our photo walk, and he let us loose on the town. In two-and-a-half hours we would meet for lunch.
The park and its surroundings appeared dull and lifeless. The only bright spots were umbrellas of my fellow photographers, many of whom had already sprung into action – some snapping pictures of a nearby creek and the bridge over it and some bending over wet bushes.
“What’s the point?” I thought to myself. On a day like this, nothing is going to look pretty. Then I lowered my gaze and, as things came into focus, I suddenly spotted little red berries on the bushes growing along the creek, drops of rain glistening on the leaves and the freshly green blades of grass. I was wrong. Even in the rain, the world was full of colors. In fact, they became as vivid as ever, and even simple objects – like benches, bikes chained to a rack and the railing of a bridge – looked interesting. And the air! It was fresh and energizing. I wasn’t wasting my time by coming here. I was encountering a different world. And I turned my camera on and began taking pictures.
True, operating a camera in the rain was … let’s say, challenging. But I welcomed the challenge, for it made me look, really look, and notice things I usually miss: patterns of puddles on the street, sidewalk paintings, reflections in shops’ windows and, of course, people, some of whom hurried along hidden under their umbrellas, and some paid no attention to the rain. I couldn’t stop pressing the shutter, as if I could see better through the small opening of my lens than I could with my eyes.
Time speeded up, and soon, I found myself at the end of our route. Now I needed to hook up with the rest of the group.
“I’m not going to lunch with them. I don’t feel comfortable with strangers.” I had said to my husband before I left home. But there I was, at the table with people talking passionately about resolution, lenses (What’s the sweet spot for this one?) and flashes (“You need one master and, at least, two slaves”). I was participating, too – if not by talking then by listening. I was learning about the art of photography, but, most importantly, I was learning about how differently we see the world. For we all walked the same streets, squares and alleys. We saw the same people and buildings. Yet what we documented with our cameras was different. None of us caught everything, but together, we could compile a picture of our town – things that were beautiful about it but also things that were mundane and ugly.
As I was driving back home, I kept going over my morning. Did it improve my technical proficiency? Not by much. That would require more time and effort. But, it improved my understanding of how we – if we want to – can fit our individual pieces into a larger whole. As for the rain, as one Russian song goes, “There is no bad weather in nature. Whatever happens has its time and purpose. And we should be grateful for all of it.”