I think a good photographer photographing people will do most of the work before they ever place a camera between themselves and their subject — spend as much time with that person as possible intimately watching them, seeing how they move and how they interact with their environment, and listening to what they have to say, and understanding what their interests are so you can juxtapose some of those ideas with your own.
In 2009, I did a whole blog on the subject of a single American beech. It was a lot of fun in the springtime, watching things change. But somehow the subject exhausted itself before fall. I think that I didn’t know enough about botany then.
And also, I went back to work in Afghanistan, so my attention was too scattered to focus on this one subject. But I’d like to return to it someday.
This underwater photograph, Temporary Home, was featured in the exhibit “Art in Bloom” at Big Canoe, Georgia. I shot it in Jamaica using my new underwater camera. I was watching the layers of water and light, and how the steps created a pathway between them.
When it came time to choose a photo for the Art in Bloom show, I intended to pick something representative of my abstract nature photography. But this photo stopped me. What I like about it is how it conveys the impermanent state we are in, just floating, and that death is moving up and outward.
The idea was in my head because I’d heard just days before a teenage girl singing a song at Jasper ArtFest, called “Temporary Home.” I had video-recorded her singing, and then watched it again and again despite the poor sound quality, which does not do justice to the sweet clarity of her voice.
The lyrics describe a little boy, a young mother, and an old man, all in various difficult stages of life, and all comforted by the thought,
“This is my temporary home, it’s not where I belong – windows and rooms, I’m passing through…. I’m not afraid because I know this is my temporary home.”
And then I got a “hit” from the universe. I don’t get those very often, the message that’s quite clear telling me what to do, but this one was as though a person was sitting next to me.
Choose this photograph. Someone in Big Canoe needs this message.
OK, I thought. Let’s just test this.
I sent this photo and two other very nice ones to Carolyn Littell and Janet Hagerman, the floral artists who had been chosen to interpret my work. Janet went straight to it: “Temporary Home. It just spoke to me.”
We met to discuss the piece, and they listened carefully to my thoughts about the meaning of death. I was intrigued to imagine how they might interpret it; Janet is versed in Asian thought and ikebana, the Japanese minimalist style of arranging flowers and objects.
On the day of the Art In Bloom reception, I was just about to get dressed to go when the phone rang. It was my sister Ann, with terrible news: My nephew Erik’s oldest son, Ann’s grandson, had been killed by a drunk driver. Tony Bloomquist was just 19.
I tried to absorb the shock, and comfort her as best I could. It was an outrageous, horrific blow to everyone who knew Tony. I didn’t want to go to an art reception with a bunch of people drinking wine and gossiping.
But I knew Carolyn and Janet were really excited for me to see the interpretation. So I went.
When I walked in and saw it, I was amazed at how distinctive and beautiful the interpretation was. Janet had used hydrangeas in a crystal bowl, some on the bottom, some floating, matching the color palette of Temporary Home, with water and lights to augment the theme of transience and transition.
Lots of people stopped to study our pairing. Many of the other floral interpretations were more traditional arrangements accompanying paintings, but this one, they told me, was really unusual.
Being at the reception, I saw how the message had resonated with Janet, Carolyn, and visitors to the exhibit. This communal response soothed to me in my grief.
And I remembered the voice that spoke to me the day I chose the photo.
The person who needed to hear the message of Temporary Home was me.