Taking photos with the body

Taking photos depends on moving, exploring, changing the perspective. Approaching possible photo compositions and subjects from different angles. Dancing around them to find a good composition. Waiting for the good moment. It’s physical.

Foggy morning in the Belgian countryside / April 2021

I used to favor zoom lenses. It was convenient to be able to zoom in and frame from a distance. But my way of approaching scenes and subjects has changed. I’m more interested in what can be captured using my feet, my hands and my whole body. I rarely feel like changing the focal length.

This has little to do with the technical advantages of prime lenses. It’s more about the physical experience of taking a photograph and the way I position myself in relation to the subject.

Novice archers used to learn that the bow and arrow were an extension of their body. Great archers were perfecting the art of being one with their bow. Likewise, the camera is an extension of the body. The body is the one having the experience worth capturing. It is also the one positioning itself in time and space to take that shot.

When I say body, I mean the whole living, feeling, and thinking organism.

Using the camera as an extension of a living body changes the experience of taking photos. It’s a subtle change. It has to do with taking responsibility, being present, putting in the effort.

It has to do with accepting ourselves in our own body and accepting the results of our effort as they are.

Blend in

Villers-la-Ville, Belgium (2019)

The path is narrowing down. It’s getting late. I lie down among the flowers and the shadows. Waiting for the dark to set in.

Just before sunset, there is this brief moment of clarity and intensity. The colors become more vivid, the sounds of the forest grow louder. Everything is alive, fresh, and crisp.

The wind picks up from time to time. The tree crowns above me are dancing a weird dance.

We’re often afraid of anything that could dissolve our sense of being a separate ego. But right here, the borders and delimitations fade away. I let myself dissolve in the scene. Everything I could possibly say is already said, much clearer, by my surroundings.

My ego cannot really add to this perfect dance. So I blend in like a nocturnal animal.

Sunrise

I’ve been walking across the fields waiting for the first light. Everything is covered in dew. There’s a strange stillness in the air, as if all creation is bracing for sunrise.

First light (Walloon countryside, Belgium, 2018).

Right here and now, everything seems possible. Everything seems to be still ahead, as if the world has been just created and none of its possibilities have been wasted yet.

Later in the day, the burden will maybe return on my shoulders. I will feel the full weight of my lived life and my unlived possibilities. I will feel as if the path ahead is narrowing. I will feel the weight of my past choices, like walls growing taller to the left and the right.

But right now, everything is lying ahead of me, still unborn.

6 am

I am walking through a patch of wilderness that opens towards the North Sea. I want to get to the seashore before sunrise.

The horizon is intense orange slowly turning into gold. I can hear the sea through the breeze, like a white noise softening every other sound on earth. I’ve scared off a few rabbits on my way. The bushes are full of movement and sound. The sand dunes are full of life.

I move along and I stumble upon a flock of sheep. The sun has barely risen above the horizon and the horizontal light turns the sheep into golden snowballs. It smells of dozens unknown plants and flowers, of sea and of animal life. It smells of all the journeys I could have taken and, for some reason, did not take. Of all the unlived things.

But there’s no sadness or regret here and now. Everything is happening so fast. There’s so much to see, so much to feel.

The sea is really close now. I hear the waves close by. One more dune that I struggle to climb, my feet sinking into the sand. Then, all of a sudden, the horizon punctuated by fortifications from the Second World War. I’ve made it just before sunrise.

People have fought and died here just a few decades ago. They have probably sent a letter to their spouses days or hours before the fight. They have probably shared a cigarette with their mates before the shooting and shelling started. It’s all quiet now.

There’s barely enough light but I see the graffitis on the concrete structure in front of me. One word stands out in the dark, in white paint: resist.

In three hours, the sun will be way up and tourists will start entering the dunes to take shelter from the heat. And mankind will once more be all-present and all-powerful. Gloriously leaving behind it plastic garbage, taking selfies on the fortifications and crushing the delicate blue flowers of the dunes.

Then the tide will come in and wash it all away. Wildlife will hide away and stay silent, waiting for the dark. And life will go on.