i woke this morning about 4:30 – which is not unusual – and noticed out my window a spectacular moon-set over mt. washington on the western horizon. i “leapt” out of bed (i don’t think i’ve actually leapt in any manner in years, like when my doctor tells me to “hop up” on the exam table, and i just laugh), and went to downstairs (rode the sometimes agonizingly slow stairlift) to get my camera, then back up to get my tripod and take the assembled unit into the upstairs bathroom, where there is a wonderful view of that horizon.

well, i had no idea how fast the moon set. by the time i was ready to capture the scene in pixels, the moon had dropped below the horizon – not even a glow. which inspired my paraphrasing of the zen proverb, do not mistake the moon for a camera pointing at the moon. if i’d’a just looked out the window, i would have seen a beautiful and rare sight, the full moon dropping down below the mountain. instead, in my “dash” to assemble my equipment, i didn’t see any of it.

it made me think about photography in general – how much do i miss of the world while i am busy framing it in the viewfinder? this thought has crossed my mind before, when i’d go for a walk in the woods (it’s been a while since my last one of those), and debated whether to bring the camera. would i not really see where i was and what was in front of me if i was looking at it all as a possible photograph? but what if i saw something that i really wanted to photograph but had left my camera at home? in retrospect, i think i usually enjoyed being out in the forest more, had a deeper experience, when i did not have a camera in my hand.

i’m not sure how this applies to life in general – maybe if we can, every now and then, notice where we are without concern for where we are going, we can more fully appreciate the absolute moment, without trying to capture it. since, when you get right down to it, that is all we have.


Author: stephen

stephen harris is a writer, painter and a photographer who lives with his family in maine.

4 thoughts on “proverb”

  1. When I was in high school and taking a videography class, my teacher remarked one day on how, if given the option, most people will choose to watch whatever is happening on a screen–however small the screen is–rather than the live action right in front of them. Over the years when I was filming one thing or another, I noticed that oddly enough, people around me would watch what I was filming and see what was happening through the tiny screen on my video camera rather than looking at it happening right in front of them. It was a weird thing to think about and a weird thing to realize and I didn’t really know what it meant, but I’ve thought about it so many times since then. All I know is, I definitely make a conscious decision to watch the live action in front of me, even if someone in front of me is taping it. I can watch the video later.

    But it’s a little different when it’s just you and you’re talking about photography, isn’t it? Since facebook was brought into all of our lives (and added the option to upload photo albums), we’ve all gotten a chance to see just how much people feel the need to document their lives. I often wonder how much fun someone could possibly have been having if they came away from dinner with friends with 50 postable pictures? I mean, how many outtakes were there? And my goodness–don’t their friends just HATE going out with them? It’s not the same thing as what you’re talking about at all–had you been able to take that photograph, it would surely have been beautiful and something to treasure–but I, too, find myself wondering whether it’s better to record something or to just experience it.

    I suppose you can take some comfort in the fact that you saw the moon that night at all–the image in your mind will probably stay with you for a long time, even if you can never show it to anybody else. It’s like a little secret between you and the world.

  2. It is a dilemma, isn’t it. Camera or no camera?

    My wife and I differ on the answer, she almost always opts to take it – I almost never do. There is not doubt that I love seeing the pictures at a later date to remind me of a wonderful experience…but at the time I am experiencing it, the camera seems to detract from the experience.

    Without a camera – the experience ends up being personal. I can’t share it.

    With the pictures, you can share a bit of the experience with others.

    Maybe it is a really good thing that Crystal and I approach things differently.

  3. Steve, perhaps you will have a reprieve. Leave your camera set up and tomorrow morning at 5:30 more of less the moon will be at the same location for you to both capture and enjoy.

  4. Stephen, I often debate this same question. But it seams that when I don’t have my camera I always want it.
    It was a pleasure meeting you today. Nice blog.

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