photography and writing

I recently wrote about Barry Lopez’s 1998 book of essays, About This Life. In addition to what you would expect to see from Lopez, writing about nature and the outdoors, he devotes a long essay to the merits of the Boeing 747 jetliner and another to his experience with photography.

Lopez writes that he delved into photography for a while, and in fact he sold several photos. But, he realized, when recalling an encounter with a polar bear:

quoteRemembering what happened in an encounter was crucial to my work as a writer, and attending to my cameras during our time with the bear had altered and shrunk my memory of it. While the polar bear was doing something, I was checking f-stops and attempting to frame and focus from a moving boat…. As a writer, I had begun to feel I was missing critical details in situations such as this one because I was distracted.

Nikon P500I had a similar realization one year when we were at Lake Shasta. I realized I was so focused on getting pictures that I was failing to enjoy the moment I was in. I had a lovely Nikon D70 digital SLR camera with multiple lenses which I then sold off in pieces on eBay. I replaced it with a compact digital camera which served me fine on our Alaska trip in 2011. I wanted to keep something of a hand in photography without being obsessed by it, but that camera simply didn’t feel right in my hands. Right after the Alaska trip I bought a Nikon P500, which has the look and feel of an SLR, but with a fixed lens. It’s the camera I still use today when I want something more than my iPhone can offer.

After my dad’s death in 2020 my brother urged me to take his Sony A230 digital SLR, which I did. I used it some, but the two of us just never hit it off. I’m sticking with my P500 for my “beyond the iPhone” camera needs.

These many years later I feel much the same as I did at Lake Shasta. I am sticking with my writing and I’ll take photos here and there when I feel so moved.


For a long time I was a serious, avid photographer. Then, one year when we were at Lake Shasta I realized that I was too busy trying to get the right picture to actually savor the moment. I decided it was time for a change, and I was better off channeling my creativity in my writing. I sold my expensive equipment and lenses and purchased a smaller camera with a fixed lens.

InstagramThat has worked out well. I still take pictures, but that don’t get in the way of my experience of the moment. I got some really great pictures on our 2011 Alaska trip without obsessing over getting the perfect shot.

Recently I decided that I would up my photo sharing just a little. My friend Kate shared some of her Instagram photos on Facebook, and I thought it would be fun to do a little Instagram sharing as well. It’s been fun so far.

I generally share all of my Instagram photos on Facebook simultaneously, but if you’d like to see my photos directly in Instagram, I’m mikec2209 there.

Thank you for your support, as Frank Bartles used to say.

the typewriter

I don’t miss my typewriter. I’m a terrible typist. I always have been. And it’s infinitely easier to correct errors on a computer than it is on a typewriter.

typewriterStill, the typewriter was an essential part of my life for many years. My first typewriter was a gift from my parents and grandparents before I was even in high school. It was, of course, indispensable when I was in college. And I used a typewriter for many years after college. The first computer I had where I could actually compose and print things out was my Apple IIe in 1986 or 1987. That pretty much spelled the end of my using a typewriter.

Still, it’s fun to look back. This photo essay of writers at their typewriters was actually published in The Guardian in 2011, but I only recently came across it. It’s a lot of fun to scroll through. What is interesting is how modest most of the typewriters are. Only Hunter S. Thompson is shown with a powerful IBM Selectric. (And by the way, the spell checker in my blog tool didn’t recognize that once well-known brand name.)

I managed with a typewriter for years, but I much prefer the technology I have today.

changing priorities, priorities unchanged

In the process of digging up an electronic copy of our household philosophy for yesterday’s blog entry I came across a page I did for my Pitzer College reunion in 2000. The class of 1975 was asked to do a page that reflected our current thoughts and values. That was because in 1975 we had a yearbook in which each senior was given a page to express themself however they chose. I was struck by what has changed for me and what has not changed.

PitzerPageI included this picture of me. Terry and I were on a hike, and the t-shirt I wore while holding my camera said, “Baseball is life. The rest is details.” The caption beneath the picture read, “Important things in life: baseball, hiking, and photography” I’m sure Terry and I staged that specifically for the page. Today we don’t hike much because of Terry’s knees, I don’t do anywhere near as much photography as I used to, and I follow baseball, but not with an intense interest. Beyond our household philosophy (which also appeared on the page) and time spent with Terry and Tasha, these days I’d probably list my three important things as writing this blog, cooking, and reading books on my Kindle iPad app.

But one thing is unchanged. On the page I also quoted the now Emeritus Dean Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral on the importance of the Eucharist:

quoteEvery day and every Sunday we celebrate the politics of God in the Eucharist—one table where everyone is welcome and there’s food for everyone: a subversive table, stirring up our longing for liberty.

Today the Eucharist is as central in my life as it ever was, as is the importance of being inclusive at that Table.

Many things change. Some don’t.

complete flip

The year 2014 brought an interesting flip in how Terry and I do things.

TerryCalendarFor a number of years we have been creating a calendar from the photos of our trips. Initially the pictures were all mine. But as Terry got interested in photography we started including her photos as well. The first year that we included Terry’s photos three of the twelve were hers.

At the same time that Terry was getting more interested in and getting better at photography, I was hit by the realization that trying to get the right picture was interfering with my enjoyment of the particular moment. I also realized that I wanted to communicate more through my writing.

This meant that the balance of the calendar continued to shift. For our 2013 calendar Terry had nine photos and I had three. And then this year, our 2014 calendar, all twelve photos were Terry’s.

I’m fine with that. Terry is a good photographer who keeps getting better, and I enjoy writing.

It all works.

on (not) capturing reality

On my birthday weekend, Terry and I visited the San Jose Museum of Art to see the Annie Leibovitz exhibit. One of the other exhibits, however, caught my attention. It was photographs of the American West by Doug Hall. It was 18_rushmooredominated by a big-screen video of the Golden Gate Bridge and the ship traffic going beneath it, and he had some amazing portraits, but what really caught my attention were two images: one of crowds of people at Glacier Point in Yosemite and the other of crowds of people at Mt. Rushmore. I have never been to Mt. Rushmore, but Terry and I have been to Yosemite several times, and on our most recent visit we took the tour to Glacier Point. My photos there removed the crowds to the degree possible. Cropping in Photoshop helped complete the task. I spend a lot less time and energy on photography now than I once did, but that has always been my approach: capture the beauty, remove the crowds.

It struck me, looking at Hall’s photos, that in my photography I have violated the very principles of capturing reality I have criticized nonfiction writers for violating. Yet had I captured the scene as I actually experienced it, the photo would be less pleasing and less aesthetically enjoyable.

But if that is acceptable in photography does it become acceptable in nonfiction writing?

This is making my head hurt.

camera obscura (or breaking up is hard to do)

I shipped off the last piece of my Nikon camera set on Friday.

I have written here about how my interest in photography has lessened as my interest in writing this blog has increased. I wrote about how I recognized that I was so intent on getting the great shot that I failed to savor the moment at the ocean, or the waterfall, or wherever I was.

I decided that simplifying, and not carrying around a camera bag with multiple lenses was the right thing to do. I wrote about how I bought a Canon pocket camera for our Alaska trip, and while that got me some great pictures, it wasn’t quite what I wanted. I ended up with a compact digital, a Nikon P500, which provides me with a familiar feel and familiar functions, but in a much simplified manner, without the bag and multiple lenses. Even at that, we’ve gone on trips where I haven’t taken it out of its case.

I realized that I needed to get rid of my D70 and its multiple lenses. But realizing and doing are two different things. I  hung on it for a long time, not being able to let go, even though I knew I wouldn’t go back to using it. I even had all of lenses packed up in their original boxes and put into shipping boxes, ready to list them on eBay. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do that.

Finally I took a Sunday afternoon and listed everything. It all sold. And really, it was the right thing to do. I have my P500 for the shots I want to take, and I ended up with a nice balance in my PayPal account that I can use for fun indulgences like Amazon and iTunes gift cards. But mostly I know I can stand by the ocean and enjoy the moment and not feel like I’m missing some picture I really need to capture.

That’s a good thing.

appreciating the moment

I really have gotten past the point where I feel I have to have my camera in my hand every moment when we’re out and about on vacation. At Cambria last week, Monday afternoon and all of Tuesday were gray and overcast. I left my camera in the drawer and was content to enjoy the experience of being by the ocean and walking the Cambria boardwalk with Terry. Wednesday cleared up and I took my camera. I got some good pictures, I think, but I didn’t feel the urge to get every conceivable shot.

That makes for a more enjoyable, relaxing time away, I do believe.

happy to help

G&T A reflection from our Goose & Turrets Getaway — Presidents' Day Weekend 2011

When we were at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve there was a young couple, obviously madly in love, looking out over the bluff in awe of the crashing waves. It had been stormy the past few days and it was high tide, so the ocean was really showing its power. We learned later that they were from upstate New York, and had only been out here for seven months. Given that I can appreciate their reaction. I'm a native Californian and still often feel that way by the ocean.

They asked Terry to take a picture of them, but she deferred to me, since she was busy with her new camera, and I was without that day. I took two shots with their pocket digital. They took the camera back and looked at them in the LCD display. The woman smiled and said, "Thanks. They're great!"

That by itself would have been enough to have made my day.

a different approach

I made a big shift in perspective last week.

I've written here about how my interest in photography isn't what it once was, and about my desire to focus on my writing. This, of course, becomes closely tied to what I carry to Alaska with me when Terry and I go there in May. I wasn't all that excited about carrying my camera bag on the trip. After our Montara weekend, and seeing Terry use her new Canon SD4500 IS I decided there was no reason for me Sx210is not to take something similar to Alaska. When we got home I ordered a Canon SX210IS.

The camera arrived Thursday, and so far I love it. It has a lot of features, more than I expected. I have to say the paradigm is different from what I am used to, and that will take some, well, getting used to. When I moved from my Nikon film N80 to my digital D70 in 2004 the process was nearly seamless. The cameras functioned in a very similar manner. The D70, I understand, was, in fact, modeled on the N80.

IMG_0008 A pocket digital, though, is designed from the ground up as a pocket digital, and so functions on a different working model. That's fine though. I'll adapt. In fact, I'm excited. It's a liberating thought to be taking take the Canon to Alaska, rather that lugging my camera bag with my D70 body, four lenses, two  hoods, multiple filters, cleaning tools, and a partridge in a pear tree.

It's a new perspective indeed. I'll keep you updated.