South With the Night

“I have lifted my plane from the Nairobi airport for perhaps a thousand flights and I have never felt her wheels glide from the earth into the air without knowing the uncertainty and exhilaration of firstborn adventure.”

Beryl Markham, “West With The Night.”

I was rereading this book, something I do every few years, and came across this passage which made me stop and think. This is obviously in regard to flying but I think the same idea can be applied to the idea of leaving to go photograph, at least for me. The idea of not knowing what is going to happen is one of the things that really gets my blood going. People photograph for a variety of reasons, all of which are equally valid in my mind. I have a list of reasons why I do it. The need to record, sense of history, sense of documenting and for the adventure of it all, and this is where this quote most aptly applies. The adventure of it all. I know that the vast, vast, vast majority of my images will simply not work, so embarking on a photo-adventure with high numbers of perfect “keepers” as the goal isn’t really on my mind. The idea of consistent failure is true for everyone, but we can fool ourselves into thinking, or Photoshop ourselves into thinking, that a higher number actually work, but let me just say..they don’t. There, don’t you feel better? Relax and enjoy the relevance of this fact.

It never gets any easier, this photography thing. I might think I know what I’m looking for, and I have settled my technique to a certain degree, but I don’t really know anything. I feel the pressure, self-induced, each time I leave the house. I begin to snoop around and when I frame something that shows hope the walls of insecurity and pressure begin to crumble. But each night these same walls are rebuilt.

These images were made a BMX track in Texas, and are photographs I think I have posted before, but I did so again because I wanted to emphasize the point above and the one to follow. I was at this track with a Hasselblad, 80mm and tripod, YES I said tripod. I was going to say I never use tripods, but I will amend that to “I rarely use tripods.” These tracks are home to many, many people with cameras. In most cases they are home to the dslr and long lens. After all, people are trying to get photographs of little Timmy burning up the track. I get it. Well, I don’t have a little Timmy, but I do have a nephew who was burning up the track. I shot a few of those pictures, but was left with an empty feeling. Peak action sports images are not my thing. I LOVE sports, but shooting sports, not so much.

I wasn’t alone at the track. I had a brother, sister and friend riding shotgun, but in my mind I was entirely alone. You know how it is when you put a camera in your hand. Little else matters.

The humidity made me shoot these pictures. It did. The humidity made me realize the important thing about these images had to be how they made me FEEL about being here. The adventure here was in the details, in the atmosphere and it was my job to snatch them away, preserve them so that someone else could FEEL what is was like to be here, not only SEE what it was like.

I don’t remember how many images I made this night, but it wasn’t that many. A few rolls perhaps. Doesn’t matter. But I can remember every single detail because my mind was set to “adventure” mode and I was entirely ready to embrace the unknown.

8 responses to “South With the Night”

  1. Zeno Watson says:

    Thank you, for your thoughts, in your very relective post. It has got me thinking.

  2. LionelB says:

    Absorbed in photography as meditation, time evaporates and those around who are still stuck on it become a distant presence. My pulse slows and sounds become more acute. I start to notice.

  3. jennychlad says:

    i can feel the heat. like the kids are mirages…or those reflective pools on hot pavement that disappear…whatever the technical term is… a great image makes you feel, not just pleasing the eye. also love the texture of the canopy/tent and how it renders the tree..i can feel its translucence. so much better than a tightly cropped slick static sports shot.

  4. I like the quote, sounds like a book I must read. I have been seriously addicted to the feeling of adventure for a long time, photography is a big part of it. As frustrating as it can be it’s always new, into the unknown. A travel mate once said in a bored state of mind ‘I really envy how you have a craft, always something to go out and do’. That’s part of the thrill of the camera, a tool to explore and document.

    • Smogranch says:


      It’s true. We always have this “thing” with us. Sometimes it can be a curse because it does not lend itself to peace or tranquility. But, we all took the red pill and now we must suffer.

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