Where Past And Present Overlap

Back in February 2017, I decided to become more intentional with my photography. So virtually every weekend, I would buy a cup of coffee and go to Finkbiner Park in Glendora, CA. I would walk around sipping my coffee and taking photos of compositions that caught my eye.

Why Finkbiner Park? This was a place that my kids visited frequently in their childhood and still holds a fondness in my heart and memories. I would regularly take them to this park and they would innocently play and laugh as children.

Now my kids are adults. They face adult struggles and stresses. They have adult dreams and goals. But when I stroll through Finkbiner Park, I can still see and hear them as little children. For a short time every weekend, I’m flooded with memories as my past and present overlap. I relax in all the thoughts and emotions that surface. And I take photos.

I never had the intention of making my weekly trips to Finkbiner Park a photography project. Ever since I took up photography, my goal has been to use this art form to force myself to see ordinary things from unique perspectives and hopefully see something beautiful that I and others would normally miss. But over the past year, I’ve amassed a couple hundred photos of the park and surrounding neighborhood. I used different cameras, lenses, photography styles, and editing processes to capture some of the beauty of this small local park.

I have uploaded all of my Finkbiner Park photos into a Flickr album if anyone is interested in looking at the images. There are some good photos, same mediocre ones and some bad ones. But, they all form a special visual memoir of this past year. I also post a lot of my photos on my Instagram account if you’re interested in following me there.

I think the image at the top of this post captures this experience. Time is like the gate that has closed upon a stage of my life very dear to me, a time when I watched my four children experience life with innocence and wonder and play. The playground in the background is like my memories of my children — colorful, dreamy and slowly fading out of focus.

I absolutely adore my adult children and who they’ve become. But, I painfully miss my little children and the life we shared together. And for a little sliver of time each weekend, I get to capture images of the present as my past swirls around me.

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Fascinated With What Others Don’t See

I just viewed a beautiful photo and read some wonderful thoughts by Zeb Andrews. View his photo here. And here are his thoughts:

“I think one of the greatest gifts of photography is the ability to be fascinated by something as seemingly mundane as an empty parking lot. Ok, in all fairness it wasn’t simply an empty parking lot, but rather the reflection of light at night across the shiny surface of a wet, empty parking lot. But that is still fairly mundane. Not many people are sitting at home and think to themselves, “You know what I want to do tonight? It’s not dinner, it’s not club hopping, it’s empty parking lots.” Not many people, but I am willing to be a vast majority of the people who do think such things are photographers. Because that’s what photography does for you, it gives you the tools you need to notice such things and strengthened sense of creativity to appreciate them.

“I don’t know about you, but I really appreciate that. For me then, it isn’t even about being able to make an interesting photo of such things, but rather simply the noticing of them. I think this image is alright, I doubt I will ever print it, it’s interesting enough to post along with this short essay here on Flickr, so that counts for something. But the value that came from this experience was all in the experience itself, standing there in a big, open parking lot that was a few hours removed from being packed with cars and people, that was noisy with human activity and had become silent, the play of the different color temperatures of light across its reflective surface, and the speed at which the clouds were traveling on the stormy breeze through the skies above.

“All in all, it was a good moment to be in and one I doubt I would have ever found without the benefit of photography.”

What is true in photography is even more true in spiritual formation. I think we’re all aware that technology has reduced our culture’s awareness to simply swiping up, down, left or right to see the next new thing that tickles our senses.

But spiritual disciplines like silence, solitude, prayer, repentance, and fasting force us to stop and look. We cannot simply swipe left when confronted with personal or society’s brokenness. Nor can we simply swipe right into Christ’s likeness. God’s movement in our lives is not a social media feed through which we can casually scroll. Spiritual disciplines compel us to stop, see and become fascinated with the Spirit’s work like a photographer is fascinated by light, color, and reflections.

Slowing Down

I look forward to my weekends. And for me, this photo summarizes one of the reasons why. On Saturdays and Sundays mornings, I try to make time to walk and take photos. Like everyone, all week I’m rushing and working. But for an hour or so on the weekends, I slow down, look around, and try to see things I normally wouldn’t notice.

This photo is an example. As I walked through a local park I saw a discarded softball in an empty field, a leftover abandoned after a team practice. I don’t know how long it lay there or who else noticed it. But there was something tranquil and poignant about this scene. So I kneeled down on the red dirt and snapped a couple of images.

The next morning, a softball team was practicing on the field. The ball was gone, probably thrown into a trashcan, forever forgotten. But life moved onward.

I get it. It’s just a softball. But this photo reminds me that I had the privilege of seeing a small part of God’s creation in a way that maybe no one else on this planet did. And I just didn’t see it. I got to get my knees dirty and enter and engage that special moment in order to capture it, to memorialize it.

I think part of our role as God’s image-bearers is to notice. We have to first notice in order to care, love and bless.

Dallas Willard once said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our world today.” It’s almost impossible to be God’s image-bearers without noticing. And it’s almost impossible to notice without removing hurry from our lives.

Photography reminds me to slow down and look. It reminds me that there is far more to life than my worries, my struggles, my dreams, my agenda. There are moments and lives into which I can enter if only I slow down and notice.

Present In The Moment Through Photography

I have quoted Zeb Andrews on this blog several times before. There are many photographers that inspire me to become a more skilled photographer. But there are a select few who actually inspire me to become a better person through photography. Zeb Andrews is one of those unique photographers.

One of the original reasons I fell in love with photography was because it helped me see normal, everyday things from a different perspective; to see details that I would have ordinarily overlooked. Photography has helped me to become more aware. And in the process of becoming aware, it helped me to become more thankful.

Yesterday on his Flickr account, Zeb posted the following image and reflection that shares my original passion for photography:

roundabouts-zeb_andrews_2016“Roundabouts” by Zeb Andrews

“I have said this before, but I have no problem talking about it again because good things have a tendency to come back around… and around… and around.

“I try not to be a photographer to do things. I mean, my goal isn’t to take photos. It isn’t even to make photos. It just so happens that in my normal course of photography that I make lots of pictures, but I see this as a side benefit. I am a photographer to be things, not do them. I want to be creative. I want to be inquisitive. I want to be attentive. I want to be in the moment and I want to be hopeful of the future. I want to be fascinated and awe struck at the myriad subtleties to life and the world. I want to be aware of the fact that no matter where I go or when I am that there are so many things that are different than where I came from… and there are also so many things that are the same. I want to enjoy the pattern that a leaf makes skittering across the road in a gust of wind. I want to look back in uncertain curiosity at that cat crouched in the windowsill watching me. I want to spend some portion of my life wondering about the coincidence of that red car parked in front of that red house with the bush full of red flowers right between them. Who thinks these things up, after all?

“Because then, regardless of whether photos come of the moment or not, I get something vastly more rewarding.

“Take revolving doors for a moment. This is a revolving door I have walked past countless times. It is a door I have barely noticed. I have never felt a shred of curiosity about it. I have never walked through… never been tempted to walk through it… never had a reason to be tempted to walk through it. But this is what photography helps me to be… curious, with reason and cause.

“I am well aware that there is a vast gulf of things we are blind to in our daily lives, things we take for granted or fail to notice. I know I never can, but I want to notice it all. I want a revolving door to be as fascinating as an ancient church in France.

“Anyway, that is what this image is really all about.”

Fulfillment

Friend-sRGBI read somewhere that there are two groups of photographers.

One group are professional photographers. They are spending only 10% of the their time shooting and the other 90% hustling, marketing, selling and servicing their clients.

The other group of photographers want to go pro because they imagined they would be spending 100% of their time doing what they love — shooting photos.

Both groups talk about how their current lives don’t allow them to do what they really want to do. An amateur thinks becoming a professional would allow you to practice photography full-time. And a professional realizes that it doesn’t.

Fulfillment doesn’t occur when one crosses the line into professional status. Rather, it’s develop a life that takes risks and makes room for that which fulfills.

I want to once again thank Mark for starting my love for photography and Debbie for helping me to make room for it in our lives.

Oh. And in case you missed the point. Making room for that which fulfills applies to pretty much everything important in life and not limited only to photography.

My Photography

I am a fortunate guy. I realize that and thank God daily. Besides a great wife and kids, good friends, a nice job, and many, many other blessings that I don’t deserve, I also get to take pictures.

IMG_0801 Green at the Beach.JPG

I started exploring photography back in 2006. That’s when I purchased a Canon Powershot A620. It was a point-and-shoot camera. But I didn’t know what I was doing and shot in Auto. Occasionally I would get a decent image. I especially liked the macro feature on the camera.

Blue Glass-sRGB House In The Snow

Then in 2009, my best friend and lifelong photographer gave me a Nikon D40X. I purchased a used 18-200mm lens and jumped feet first into the DSLR world. While I still shot mostly in Auto, I started looking at “ordinary” things from a different perspective.

 

CFD Bulb Links

Also in 2009 came my first iPhone. I later heard a statement that summed up my experience with my iPhone, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” I became enthralled with the ease of taking and editing photos on my iPhone. While not having the quality of a DSLR, it allowed me to focus on capturing the “ordinary” in a more artistic way.

 

Yarn Cabrillo Shoreline

In 2015, my photography experience expanded when I purchased the Sony a6000. I started using prime lenses and learned to shoot in Manual. I’m learning posing and portraiture. I’m learning lighting techniques. What began ten years ago as a simple hobby as slowly turned into a something very rich and fulfilling.

I post my photos in different venues — Facebook, Instagram, Flickr & 500px. This weekend, I decided to launch a simple website (jasonzahariades.com). Frankly, I’m not sure where I want to go with all of this. My initial intention was to launch a small business that I could grow as I slowly approach retirement.

However, the thought of starting a photography business scares me. I love photography. I love freezing special moments to enjoy over and over. I also love seeing things from a different perspective. I love the creative process. And I especially love that there’s no stress associated with my photography. It’s just fun, plain and simple.

So, I’m afraid of what will happen if I turn something I love into a business. As with most things in my life right now, we’ll have to wait and see.

A Good Lesson For Photography… And Life

I’m an amateur photographer, so I don’t have much by which to judge someone as a great photographer. But I’ve noticed that while most photographers make beautiful photos, there are those exceptional ones that transcend making beautiful photos and actually capture life’s beauty. In my opinion, Zeb Andrews is one of those kind of photographers.

I’ve posted before about how inspiring Zeb is to me. He makes photography (and I cringe at how cheesy this sounds) magical. His images aren’t “perfect.” Nor do they look like something you’d find on a magazine cover. He doesn’t use fancy processing techniques. From what I gather from his comments on his Flickr Photostream and website, he carries a variety of cameras and film wherever he goes and intentionally looks. He has honed the art of observation. And he’s honed the art of photography to capture the beauty in what he sees. He states, “I enjoy the process of photography much more than the results.” And it shows. I think the results are pretty phenomenal. But what I love most about Zeb are the insights he shares about the process. Sometimes, I wonder if he’s sharing more about the “process” of living than photography.

Here’s some advice he gave recently that captured my attention:

“And another helpful piece of advice, don’t forget that there are many more ways than one to photograph anything. Or put another way, don’t settle with photographing anything one way. There is really an infinite number of ways to photograph everything. And this seems obvious, but trust me, it is easy to forget. Just look at Multnomah Falls. How many photographers avoid that waterfall because they think it has all been done? The same with the Eiffel Tower. Sure, there are lots of photos out there of both of these and many of these photos tend to look really similar. It is easy to make the first photo one finds and then move on to other things.

“Don’t do this. Stop. Look around. Keep looking. Move. Look some more. Wait. Then find a second and a third and a fourth different way to photograph your subject. Trust me, the perspectives are out there, it is just a matter of finding them, if you can. And sometimes you cannot. Sometimes you don’t have the equipment, or the experience or technical prowess. Sometimes you just don’t have the vision. But just because you cannot find those additional ways does not mean they don’t exist, which also means that you shouldn’t not look for them. Give it a try.”

I know firsthand how easy it is to get locked into only one perspective — in photography and especially in life. In the zealousness of my youth, it was so easy to accept what I was taught as “The Truth” and appoint myself as a spokesperson for “The Truth.” That meant I was right and everyone else who disagreed with me was wrong. I had to learn over time that what I believed to be “The Truth” was usually an opinion, a perspective. It took me years to learn that one of the beautiful aspects of life is that there is a wide variety of perspective.

I’m not saying that there isn’t absolute Truth. Nor am I saying that Truth is subjective. I’m saying that what most people proclaim as “The Truth” is usually just an opinion and all of us would benefit if we would put away our prophet’s mantle and learn to listen and appreciate the variety of perspectives that exist. To paraphrase Zeb a bit:

“It is easy to make the first opinion one forms to be the only opinion and then call it “The Truth” and then move on to other things. Don’t do this. Stop. Look around. Keep looking. Move. Look some more. Wait. Then find a second and a third and a fourth different way to understand your subject.”

Here’s something that always gives me pause. Jesus called himself “The Truth.” Truth is a person, not an abstract idea. Jesus embodied Truth in loving, gracious, life-producing relationships. That’s Truth in human form. Therefore, Truth is both known and expressed primarily in relationship, not proclamation.

What shames me is that my life is in such stark contrast to Jesus. Sometimes, my first reaction to a person with a perspective different than mine is to feel angry or threatened. That last thing on my mind is relationship. Why? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Any negative reaction I experience is caused by something within me. So I need to ask, “What is inside of me that is angered or threatened by a different perspective?” What causes this “fight or flight” mechanism in me?

I don’t have an answer for that yet. But I do know this: If Truth is embodied in loving, gracious relationship and if my reaction to a different perspective is anger or defense, then I probably don’t really know the Truth.

There is a popular saying in the Orthodox Church credited to the fourth-century monk, Evagrius the Solitary, “The one who prays is a theologian; the one who is a theologian, prays.” To me, an implication of this saying is that a person is only capable of knowing the Truth if he or she is in deep fellowship with the One who is The Truth. And a corollary to this saying is that a person can only embody the Truth to others through deep fellowship.