Everything is in flow

The small stream is at almost perfect standstill.

There is an imperceptible movement somewhere, the water molecules are rolling downstream in slow motion. But to the naked eye everything seems frozen.

It’s early autumn and the first colorful leaves are slowly gathering on the water. The Great Falling of Leaves has not started yet.

I’ve stopped for a minute to have a drink of water and watch the sun playing its hide-and-seek through the branches.

It’s cool down here. It’s a good place to rest and stay silent.

Panta rhei said a Greek named Heraclitus about 2500 years ago. Everything is in flow.

There are hundreds of books, articles, movies, plays and paintings building on these two words. Panta rhei. You cannot step in the same river twice. Everything changes constantly.

Right here, although there is a small waterfall upstream, the silence and stillness are overwhelming. The water rushes down the waterfall and all of a sudden calms down as it zigzags between the rocks.

I’m sitting there and the stream is still on the outside but is moving through me. And it carries with it all the sorrow, clarity, regret, realisation, depression and hope of the recent past, like leaves on the water.

The seventh sky

So many memories of looking at the sky.

Up on the mountain, lying on my back and catching my breath after hours of hiking. There’s nothing else but that moment of heavy breathing and the clouds passing by. Then the breathing slows down and there’s just light. I lie there between the rocks and I become a rock, a part of the mountain.

Or at nightfall, close to the tent, staring at the Milky Way. The heat from the fire nearby distorts the image, as if playing an old roll of film that’s partially damaged. Fire sparks mingling with the stars. And that feeling of getting swept away into the sky. Falling off the face of the earth.

The seventh sky is where the sun is always shining while down here, on the ground, is miserable.

Looking vs seeing

How often do you look at the sky?

Me, not so often when I’m living my normal city life. But when I’m out hiking and exploring, quite a lot. I look all around me.

We spend a big part of our life looking in front of us. We experience what happens to be happening in front of us. It’s like looking through a keyhole.

Even so, looking is not necessarily seeing. We look through things, we don’t pay attention, we don’t care that much. We see shapes and details but often what we’re really looking at is our problems, desires or expectations.

In some ways, taking photos helps you see more, because it forces you to focus on the essential. In order to do that, you have to identify the essential and render it visible. Neither of these comes by itself.

Identifying the essential is not easy because the essential is not out there. It has to do with the way we interpret the scene and what we want to make out of it. You may be in the most beautiful or interesting places on earth and not come up with anything more than random snapshots. The scene does not speak by itself. It needs purpose. It needs the right framing and idea to guide it.

There’s a world of difference between the scene as we see it and the photo taken. Compositions that make a lot of sense when we’re absorbed in the scene can result in flat, uninteresting or chaotic photos. The camera does not capture emotion, smell, mood, the whole experience of being there. It does not capture our field of vision. It captures photons from whatever direction you point it towards.

Turning this visual mess into something intesting has to do with things such as composition, subject and use of light. Deciding what to include in the frame and, maybe more importantly, what to leave out.

Time

Time is perceived differently at different ages. I remember the endless days of my childhood, the agitation of waiting for something that was just a few hours away but seemed to be forever frozen in the future.

Now I cannot make sense of many days before they’re already gone. I just record their passage. It’s like sleep – you go in and out of it and meanwhile time has passed. Only that it’s not sleep, it’s life. It’s what should have been life but has been replaced by schedules, meetings, worries, urgencies, fatigue, anxiety. And some sunshine in between.

How do you convey a sense of time in photography?

Of course, you can show a wrinkled face. The frailty of old age. A building in ruin. An abandoned park. You can put side by side photos of the same scene in different moments of the day or year. You can capture change by working with longer exposures or intentional camera movement. Or, on the contrary, you can freeze movement with short exposures, capturing expressions or gestures that would have been otherwise lost in that micro-fraction of a second.

You can work in black and white, desaturate colors or otherwise manipulate the color space in order to evoke the past. Or you can simply evoke a mood that is closely associated with the passage of time. Nostalgia. Longing. Irreversibility.

The photo above was taken in a small graveyard in Transylvania, close to a wooden church. Despite the somewhat dramatic editing, there was nothing sad or morbid about the scene. It was serene. High grass moved by the wind, nature slowly reclaiming the graves.

Letting go

When it comes to photography, learning to relax and accept what happens, to let go of control, is as important as technique. Serendipity is behind some of the most interesting photos.

It’s important to make plans. It’s even more important to realize when they need to be abandoned or changed.

Get into the scene, be present. And work with the situation as it is, not as you would have wanted it to be.

Photos do not have to be truthful to what was really out there when you took them. They have to be truthful to what you wanted to convey, to your interpretation of that scene and that moment.