Devout followers of this blog may have picked up on the fact that, prior to this summer’s trip to China, I hadn’t captured any new images in nearly two years. This, despite having traveled in Nicaragua, Panama and the Canadian Rockies (just to name a few highlights) and all without my camera. It’s not that there weren’t amazing and intriguing subjects to be photographed in each of the places, there were. It was just that my attention was elsewhere – namely with my children.
As anyone who is either a photographer or in a relationship with a photographer can tell you, photography is at it’s core a selfish exercise. When you take capturing images as seriously as I do, it’s not something to do casually, but with passion. When I pick up a camera and look through the viewfinder, I am transported and consumed by what I see. And that’s a good thing. It’s how and why I’m able to capture the images that I do.
When the kids were very young, it was all and adventure and -with Helen’s help and determination – easy enough to have the kids in tow. In fact, having Jordan and Tamar along on trips when I was shooting counted as quality family time.
Later this month, Jordan and Tamar will turn 11 and 9 respectively. What I realized two years ago was that this was the time for me to set down the cameras – at least temporarily – and make sure that when we spent time together traveling as a family, that my priority would be our kids. There would be no running off to capture an image, to chase the perfect light, or wander markets on my own looking for the perfect story. And this realization was liberating. In all our travels for two years, the only camera I had with me was my iPhone. My vacations were exactly that. Did I miss capturing images? Sure, absolutely. But I also enjoyed reading books, sleeping, being with my kids and not taking time away from them to do anything.
As a result, 2012 and 2013 were camera free years. And then a funny thing happened. My kids became concerned. Their dad, as they see it, is at his core a photographer. I’m sure that’s what they tell their friends, “my dad is a photographer.” That’s the dad they grew up with. But then they realized they hadn’t seen me with a camera for a while. And that frightened them. Some of my co-workers too, seemed to hint at their desire to see me pick up a camera again. David Winton, our Creative Director, went so far as to encourage me to buy the latest best Nikon pro camera, which I did earlier this year.
Believe it or not, I debated whether or not to bring the cameras to China. I went back and forth. I loved traveling with my family and not being distracted by the insatiable need to take pictures. I also knew that China would be special and that, given the once-in-a-lifetime chance, I would come home with terrific images. I wavered from week to week. Here’s who didn’t waver. Helen. Helen was determined from the start that I would bring cameras and take pictures.
Two weeks before we left for China, I agreed. I pulled out the manual for the new camera (Nikon d800), contact my friends at LowePro and got their newest travel pack (thanks, it was perfect!), trimmed down to the minimal gear and ordered plenty of media cards. Even Jordan and Tamar were excited. And several of my co-workers expressed how happy (read: relieved?) that they were knowing that I would back in the saddle.
Two challenges remained… mostly, would I be able to find the right balance between taking pictures and being present with my family? And secondly, photography is a muscle. With two years of lack of exercise, how would I do? Would I find the story? Would I be quick enough? Would I still enjoy the day-to-day work of taking pictures?
This picture above is one of the first images I captured on our first day in China. I like the universal story of a soldier standing guard at a ubiquitous government building. I like the contrasts in black and white, the crisp focus of the soldier and the lack of focus of the building he’s guarding. Maybe most of all, I like what most people will never know – that wandering the vast expanse of the world’s largest paved square, Tiananmen Square, I decided to photograph this guard, framed the image I wanted, set the focal length for effect and captured what was, in effect, my first image in two years. Now there’s there real story behind the picture.
The story has a happy ending, by the way. I successfully navigated family time and shooting time and captured 10,000 raw images over 3.5 weeks. I had so much fun that a month later when we returned to the Banff and the Canadian Rockies, I brought my cameras and shot there as well. Jordan and Tamar need not fear, they can always tell their friends that dad is a photographer.