As photographers, we know that some moments, ideas or experiences are simply not photographable. That does not mean we shouldn’t pause to enjoy them as life gives them to us. Nor does it mean we should not learn from them even if we do not come away with the perfect picture. I had one such experience in NYC recently.
Descending a staircase in the NYC subway, my momentum was halted by a man standing on the staircase. As I worked my way around him, I assumed he was on the stair case (rather than the lower train platform) to get the earliest possible view of the train as it entered the station, a very New York thing to do.
When I saw his face, as I continued down the stairs in my rush, I noted his eyes were closed. His clothing and demeanor made it clear he was not obviously homeless nor obviously chemically impaired nor was he obviously mentally ill. I stopped at the bottom of the staircase to try to understand what I was seeing.
Then I noted he was from South Asia, as in he was Indian or Sri Lankan, Nepali or Bangladeshi. After that, I noted his almost beatific smile. His eyes had been closed so long and his stance was so assured that I finally realized he was in fact meditating. I watched him for a bit, admiring his concentration and will power.
A bit of the hair on the side of his balding head suddenly was lifted by the wind created as his train entered the station. With tufts of his hair blowing and the wind on his skin, his mind returned to the subway, his face came to life, his eyes opened and he resumed his journey, rushing for his train like hundreds around him.
I thought to myself “that was cool,” something I often say after a great morning or afternoon of photographing. Except in this case, I had no photograph (and there had been no great photograph to make.” It would have shown a middle aged South Asian man standing on the subway steps with his eyes closed. …
I thought about turning this experience into a blog about the story telling limits of photography. Then I thought I could use it to talk about the importance of paying attention. I could have gone on and on about many important lessons to be learned as photographers from this experience. In the end I realized there was an even larger lesson to be learned, by photographers and non photographers.
People much more articulate than I am have said it better than I could, but to me the lesson was simple: Stop, look, listen and enjoy those unique experiences that life hands you every day. Though photographing them would be great, the key is to be a part of life’s magical moments. If you are open to them, they are there!