A few months ago I was photographing a wedding in Lander. Lucas and I stopped at a local coffee shop on our way out of town on the final morning. While we were waiting for our drinks, I ran out to the truck to grab something and a man who had been sitting by the door got up and followed me out. “Is that film?” He called after me on the sidewalk. I turned around to find him pointing to the old Pentax hanging from my shoulder. Yep, I said, forgetting what I needed from the truck. “I’m a photographer myself…what do you shoot?” Oh I don’t know, everything. What do you shoot? “Light and composition,” he said. Uh huh. I understood that he was there to talk at me, not to have a conversation, but I humored him and he humored me. He asked more about my camera, and I told its story. From the old man who passed and left it to his daughter, to the hot summer day when I stumbled upon her yard sale in my neighborhood and bought it from her for next to nothing, to the sporadic light leaks that I’m always excited to see. He scrunched his face when I got to the light leaks. Nah, he said, that’s not art. I laughed. Maybe not, I said, but it’s experiential, and it brings me joy. What else is there?
Just then Lucas stepped out of the shop, coffee in each hand, realizing that I’d been stymied by old man mountain. We stood there listening to his story for a long while, finishing our coffees and listening intently. When we parted, I asked if I could take his photo and snapped an underexposed shot of him in the morning light beneath the coffee sign. He posed stoically and told me that he, unlike most photographers, doesn’t mind getting his photo taken at all. I smiled and waved goodbye. His proclamations bounced around in my mind a bit, and as we rounded the curve and started climbing along the river I rolled the window down and let the sweet mountain air whisk them out of the cab. I stuck my hand out the window and traced the contacts of my favorite Middle Jurassic sandstone in the canyon wall. Annie Dillard words came to my rescue, cheering me on and puffing my chest up with love for the world and the moments that make my heart beat, “artistic” or not.
“Because it is up to you,” she tells me, “There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.” So here I begin, giving voice to my own astonishment. Nothing more. I’ve been trying to find the scan of the photo of my antagonistic old mountain man to share but I can’t find it anywhere. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence.