I have heard the expression “Carpe diem: Seize the moment,” bantered about for as long as I can remember. (I am 57 years old, so that is a long time.) I have always known what the words meant, but only recently have I come to appreciate what they mean to me.
For the longest time, I was sure those words meant that the only fully actualized person was one who seized moments in ways that resulted in some kind of immediate, tangible creative accomplishment or personal drama. The problem with that is that in my life, and in fact in most of our lives, those kind of actions aren’t possible every day. Frankly, if those kind of dramatic actions happened every day in my life, it would be chaos.
The other part of the idea of Carpe Diem that long mystified me was the fact that photographers are the very definition of people who “seize moments.” So, I should be pretty good at understanding and acting upon the idea. Still, a full understanding of that only came to me recently.
What prompted me to sit down and write this out, to put this evolving idea into words, was the workshop I just taught in Morocco. Obviously travel gives each of us ample opportunities to seize moment(s.)
When traveling, I try new things, go new places, try new words, etc. And of course I make lots of images (and increasingly videos.) Because I am VERY well practiced with cameras and my photography, I can make those images and videos relatively effortlessly. It does not mean that I did not work hard when I was in Morocco. It meant that I was rarely frustrated or angry with myself, my gear or the situations I was photographing, because I am well practiced. As anyone who has heard me talk or taken a class with me knows, I believe that practice is the key to mastery as a photographer (or in any other pursuit.)
So, seizing the moment in Morocco was relatively easy to do. Though I had moments of exhaustion while there I always seized the obvious moment and made some photographs that I am very excited about. The big epiphany was to realize the importance of reflecting on those few extraordinary moments in order to make the many ordinary moments that much more enjoyable.
Small moments need to be appreciated as much as big ones. For example, I was flying from Newark to Los Angeles after the Morocco class, basking in memories as I was reviewing some images. As the doors of the plane were about to close a customer service agent asked my name and then escorted me to a lovely first class seat. There was no moment to seize, there was nothing to “do,” but there definitely was a moment to appreciate.
Earlier in the same trip, I had a LONG, overnight layover in Lisbon, Portugal and I slept in the nicely padded seats that I found in one of the food courts. Waking up at 5 am, I then had shower and again, there was nothing to “do” but there definitely was a moment to appreciate, which was the simple pleasure of a good night’s sleep and a great shower.
As photographers, we share our moments with whomever we define as our audience. I have heard dozens of times that we sometimes need to put down the camera and experience the moment. On an obvious level I agree but…. The difference for me is that I am so well practiced in my photography that I can both record those special moments and also appreciate them as well.
The lesson is I can do this, I can enjoy the moment AND I can record it to share because I do not get distracted and waste any concentration, time and energy fiddling with lenses and settings. If there is anything Zen-like about me, it is the ease in which I photograph. Since no one who knows me would describe me as Zen-like, this one bit of Zen “mastery” is about all I can have in my life.
I am trying hard these days to appreciate moments, even if there is nothing for me to act upon. Yes, there are plenty of moments for me to seize and actions to take, but sometimes simply appreciating a moment is enough of an act of seizing that moment. Embracing that realization itself, is an example of another moment to appreciate in my ongoing quest to become a better person, teacher, photographer, parent, partner and friend.