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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Photographing the Wind

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Stephen Trimble relates some recent experiences of mishaps which occurred while he was attempting to photograph the landscape. Were natural forces protesting being captured on film?


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As we head into the traveling days of summer, many of us will want to bring our cameras along. But commentator Stephen Trimble says we should be prepared to accept those times when the pictures just don't come out.

TRIMBLE: Sometimes when I take pictures, I encounter what I call the Zen of photography. I operate the camera, compose and think about light and angle and motion, wind the film, release the shutter, invest my emotions and skills, but no pictures result. Sometimes I make careless mistakes: leaving on the lens cap, feeding the film incorrectly, forgetting to load the film at all. At other times I believe I'm being reminded by the spirits of the land to remember humility, to take proper care, to pay attention.

On the big island of Hawaii, 3,000 miles from home, I spent an exciting day photographing a molten lava flow meeting the sea, an extraordinary vision of new land forming as I watched. I stayed on several hours into the evening, continuing to photograph. As the lava glowed red in the darkness the drama increased. On the hour's drive back to my hotel, I realized that once the sun set I had never changed to a new roll of film. My film had not been advancing. I had taken no pictures at all. Eventually, my disappointment mellowed to acceptance. Pele, goddess of fire and volcanoes, clearly had told me that she did not wish to be photographed that warm night.

On another evening, passing through the Hopi pueblos in Arizona, I decided to sneak a few sunset pictures of the Mesa-Top villages. Knowing that the Hopi people frowned on all photography, but rationalizing that my hiring of official guides in the past would sanction a few quick photos now. I lay the key to my rental car on the passenger seat, took a couple of unsatisfactory photos, and then reached for the key to drive to a new location. The key was gone. I searched and searched and knew as I did so that I would not find that key until the sun was down and photography was impossible. The Katsinas, spirit messengers of the Hopi gods, were reprimanding me, and I might as well relax and sit and watch the light fade. That's what I did, and when I looked for the key again at dusk, I found it buried on the floor in the back seat under my camera bag, flipped there in my nervous haste or hidden there by the Katsinas.

I thought about the need for reverence and the meaning of mercy. I remembered what Ramson Lomatewayma, a young Hopi poet who works hard to understand the meaning of what it is to be Hopi, once said to me. You can't learn anything without giving something up.

CURWOOD: Stephen Trimble lives in Salt Lake City. He's the author of The People: Indians of the Southwest.



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