Hannah often says that she doesn’t look like herself in pictures. And she’s right. Occasionally a shot will manage to get the unknown particle that is her essence, the binder, but more often then not that elusive element slips through the camera and out the other side. She’d say she just makes photo-face, but there’s more to it than that.
I’ve spent a good amount of time at sea, and quite a lot of that time looking at the water directly, standing watch eight hours a day for passages that sometimes stretch into weeks, like very slow road trips with no stops, or roads with very much traffic. Over time you see all sorts of different seascapes: Mirror-like discs of ocean that are an unbroken whole; dark choppy waves backlit by a low sun into undefined chunks of navy water which hold shifting black shadows in their basins; and looming, open-ocean rollers that in scale harken back to an older time when the planet was raw and everything large and fierce.
Those are just some of faces – there are, of course, countless more, and endless variations on all of them. And there’s only one thing they all have in common: you can’t take a picture that will do any of them credit.
Do great ocean photographs exist? Clearly. But what is equally clear, after years on the water, is the actual seascape being captured in any of those shots would have been far more spectacular, or violent, or serene, in person. That’s the nature of water, more so than any subject other than, maybe, the night sky.
When you go to take a picture of large waves you generally get a relatively flat plane of mono where you had been seeing multi. The polished finish of a becalmed sea looks dull in the image, like you smeared the lens with a grubby hand, at least compared with the bright reflections you saw before your eye was stuck in the viewfinder. Strange light just looks dark, and breaking waves stop breaking. It’s a confounding thing. And eventually teaches you to, mostly, just take it in, and let all of the megapixels in your pocket sit, and abide.
So, in this, Hannah and the sea are the same. Some things can be seen, but not caught. Dipping a cup in a stream will never catch a river. Just a taste.
Today day grey finally found my beard (or I finally noticed it there) and a story also found me. About explored caves and unexplored depths, about people who go missing and people who come back, and about ownership and guardianship, and how great the latter is, and how limiting the former. As Reginald Jefferson Jr. explains the first time he shows his grandson the cave in his backyard, in the story I’ve just started down the road to doing justice to:
“This hole isn’t mine. I just found it, and the things in it, and they belong to me as much as the moon would if I built a picture frame and walked around holding it up to the sky.”