It’s all so Zen

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I’m going to start with some tangents then get to the point, as much as I ever have one, a few paragraphs on. The imagery is from polar bearing, the Chinese New Year’s Parade, a Snow Skate event (think SSX Tricky, and the only story assigned by the office, for you PJs), Information Superhighway’s performance, and The Afterlife’s performance. All the photos are from Friday night through Sunday night, and if still got leftovers for future posts. Ha!

There is just way too much to talk about from the past few days. Busy, busy beyond all recognition. Last night I got to turn the TV on for the evening news, tonight I watched my taped episode of Coupling (btw-I started watching this program a few months back, and it just kicks ass. Hilarious. Plus that whacky British humor kick. It’s on PBS.) That hour of TV has been all my free time for the last 5 days, and I hope it never ends.

It’s been nothing but edit, shoot, drive and talk about imagery with amazing photogs. Life is nothing short of grand. (I should note here, that I feel a little bad saying that as numerous of my friends have had really bad things happen to them this last week. And while I may be having a great week, that they are all in my thoughts and heart. If any of you need a hand, and I’ve said this to many of you already, let me know, I’m here and it would be my honor to make your life a little better.) Thursday a friend went out of her way to set-up some free tickets to a show for me. Totally unasked for, so kind, and wow, talk about setting a great tone for the weekend.

Friday after hanging with some friends, and running into a cool new friend totally at random, I got to see my favorite singer, the incredible Leslie Beukelman. (And if you’re cool, and I know you are, you want to see Leslie perform with my favorite tap dancers, Chicago Tap Theatre, in what will surely be an awesome performance, Mixology. Buy tickets now, it sells out, every show last year. Guys, you will impress your gals, with your class and taste, trust me.)

Saturday I got go Polar Bearing (I will go into depth on this in a bit, it’s the zen of it all.) And that night hang with some of Chicago’s, and the country’s premiere photographers. (Don’t believe me? Go here. Some of the presenters, showing the best in unused political photography coming out of the primaries. It makes me sad for newspapers that this doesn’t get used, but I’m not surprised either.)

Sunday was the Chinese New Year’s Parade, which was just all kinds of cold. Sunday night (Fri and Sun were both at Silvie’s strangely enough and Sat was at a house two blocks away, weird) I got to see one of my favorite theater groups turn band, The Afterlife. Whacky fun. I like theater people, I tend to get them, usually because they’re insane, so we have something in common. Plus I got to finally meet a friend (this whole Facebook/MySpace/Blog (FMB) world is weird. People I’ve never met know me, and I know them. Well at least this weekend I got to meet both of my FMB friends who I had never actually met.) who I’ve been having some pretty kickass conversations with.

Damn, I mean, damn, can life be better? Oh yeah, to top it off, I was on fire. I was like a drunken teenager in a car on a Saturday night in nowhere Texas with a baseball bat and nothing but mailboxes in front of him. Just hitting everything, everywhere. Not perfect, but solid hits all around.

Alright, too the much delayed point……Zen.

My mid-day Saturday shoot, or one of them was the Lakeview Polar Bear Club’s 7th Annual Celebration of Shrinkage. For those who don’t know, Polar Bearing is basically jumping in a cold, or in this case, literally freezing, lake, for…fun? I’ve wanted to do this for years and because of recent acquasitions by our company, was able to self-assign it for work. All the time I had for prep work basically consisted of calling Brian and getting some tips; sandals so submerged ice cuts your feet less often, a nice robe so you can quickly disrobe and re-robe, things like that.

I knew there were going to be a multitude of technical issues going in. Not that cameras don’t like either the cold or water. Who would’ve thunk it? Plus an event I have a minimal understanding of and have to cover with a minimum of equipment, again, due to the whole “water problem”. I made sure my camera was set-up before hand to be as quick and responsive as possible, basically, all manual. As old Leica ads used to say, “A camera that doesn’t get in the way of taking the picture.” Plus it was going to be quick, maybe a minute, maybe less I had been warned and the people I really wanted, the newbies screaming, probably meant a 15 second window for what I needed. This was going to come down to one, maybe two chances and that was it. Plus there were going to be a host of safety issues, as I would be in literally freezing water. Dead photographers don’t make good photos, basic rule. Basically I knew it would be great. I love intensity. It’s passionate. Yeah, baby.

So I get changed, btw-you know you’re in trouble when you are taking your clothes off on a beach, in the snow, and when you pull your long underwear off, and you have swim trunks underneath, so I get changed, get some “before” shots. Whatever. I end up standing around for a few minutes in my hat, sandals and swim trunks. You’d think this would be really damn cold, it was in the mid-20s after all, but I really wasn’t. This was kind of the theme for the day.

I set-up to be able to enter the water about 5 seconds ahead of the pack. I wanted to be able to get people if it was shocking right as they entered the water, and as I wasn’t wearing a wet suit, it needed to be as little lead time as I could get away with. Safety was a constant in this plan. I entered the water well everyone else was still about 30 feet away, so the first few seconds I got to be in the water without having to, being able to focus on shooting. This is, actually, a bad thing. See I got to feel my feet lose feeling, in what I would estimate to have been 1 to 2 seconds. But once everyone else started hitting the water, it was totally different.


When I shoot, not always, but when I’m there, when I’m in the zone, I’m there, totally in the moment, totally aware of my surrondings, totally aware of what is occurring and totally focused on what I’m doing, on the image I’m making. I think, but more than that, I react, I follow instinct and training, years of training. It’s a hard to describe combination of being in the scene, feeling the scene and floating above it all. I believe as a journalist I have to report what is there, but to capture the emotion, I have to be open to the emotion, and sometimes, feeling the emotion. I have to let that feeling, in this case, damn cold, into me, but flow through me. It has to flow through because well I need to feel it to use it to guide my imagery, my creation process, I can’t get overwhelmed by it. Sometimes I do get overwhelmed by it, and that’s hard on many levels for me, but as much as possible I need to not let it stop me from doing what I need to do.

So once all the participants got in the water it was all shooting. Turn here, look for this shot, turn there, try to get that shot. I don’t remember my legs being cold, but they could’ve just been numb at that point. And while I remember my feet being cold initially, there is something shocking I don’t remember. I didn’t go that far out, that deep, but I got above my waist in the water, I know this because my trunks were soaked when I got out of the water. Not to be blunt, and while the ladies will understand this, the men will truly get this, I don’t remember the boys hitting the water. Maybe they went numb to quick, whatever, but this is one of those moments you expect to hit you, like that drunk teenager earlier, except this time I’d be, or my boys more accurately, would be the mailbox. As a guy, any water below a nice warm bath tub, or a jacuzzi, ahhh jacuzzi, is a memorable experience and not in a good way typically. This one, which may have been the worst ever for me, I didn’t even notice. I was too focused on getting my shots, on what was around me.

It just amazes me how focused the mind can be, how it can allow all the necessary information in and discard everything else, regardless of how…profound, it may be. I ended up being in the water for about a minute and seven seconds (I’m taking that time from the time stamps on the images.) I left, I think I left, when I felt that I was starting to enter a time frame where safety issues might start to appear. Plus most everyone had come in and gotten out, so my shots had moved to people getting dressed and such and were no longer in the water. I didn’t think about it much, I just knew that’s where I needed to be, and moved to be there.

I spent the next 30 minutes, maybe more, in my wet trunks, my sandals, with wool socks on now to keep my feet warm (if my feet are warm, I’m warm), my winter hat, and my awesome royal blue heavy cotton robe. I wasn’t cold at all. I shot people getting warm, drinking hot chocolate, doing all the “after” things you would expect. Plus I ran into one our freelance photographers and we chatted for about 10, 15 minutes. The photo community is small, it’s always good to get to know people, and help them when you can, because someday, you’ll probably need it in return.

But my favorite point in shooting, the experience I live most for, is not when I see that final image. It’s for the moment shutter is open, it’s when everything is around me, I know what’s happening on all sides, and the shutter is open, making that image. For that split second an exposure is being made. That is my moment in life. That is the moment I live for. Not all photography is like that, a village council meeting? Who cares, it’s got to be done, but I’m not into it. Those intense, beautiful instants, when it’s all about feeling, instinct, passion, and the moment, that beautiful moment, is like nothing else. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to that Zen mediation feeling of being totally empty, without thought. Luckily for me, I get it regularly, or fairly regularly, and nothing can replace it.

Can life get better? And if so, can my heart handle it?


One Response to “It’s all so Zen”

  1. Kitten says:

    I realize that this comment is both really late and missing the point of most of your post, but I have to agree that “Coupling” is awesome.

    I don’t know how much of the series you’ve watched yet, but just know that hilarity is bound to ensue whenever there is a dinner party.

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