|Sorry No Pictures !
by Gary W. Stanley
My wife Pam and I spent a week or so in Yellowstone National Park and the Tetons this past fall. We shot about 74 rolls of film between us, and from my point of view, it was a very good shoot. I mentioned to some of my friends, that you normally would have to come back to this area perhaps three or four times just to get what we were able to photograph in the week we were there.
If you have ever photographed this area you know that the photo opportunities are endless. Contrary to what you might think, I'm a private person, especially when it comes to my photography. So, when Pam and I decided to do an early morning shoot at Oxbow Bend in the Tetons, I was somewhat uncomfortable with the number of people who were there to shoot what I was shooting. It, of course, has nothing to do with anyone's right to be there, it's just that when you think of that wilderness experience, you generally picture yourself ALONE in this experience.
Pam and I where all set up waiting for the light to come up and there were a few people around us. There happened to be one person down in front of us, but not really in the picture. There was one person up above us, who was obviously annoyed by his presence. Soon, I heard the guy to my right hollering down to the man in front that he was in his picture, and I could smell a confrontation coming on.
Well, it was tense for a moment or two and then they talked it out. The part that I found quite amusing was that both of these gentlemen had been here almost thirty times. I mean, you and I could have turned our backs on this scene, held our cameras over our shoulder, and taken a decent image, it's just that beautiful. Apparently, for these two, it was more about the spot than the experience, and I say, too bad for them!
Why make an issue when there were so many possible compositions? I'm sorry but this is not nature photography to me and it really spoils the moment.
By contrast, let me share with you the experience that Pam and I had while up in Yellowstone prior to this event. We had just come over the top of Mt. Washburn at a little over 10,000 feet, and were heading down the other side toward the Lamar Valley. We hadn't even finished our decent of Mt. Washburn when we came to this turnout. We parked the car and walked across the road, binoculars in hand, and sat on a large log near the side of the road.
We thought that this would be a nice spot to relax and see what was going on in the valley. For me it was like a step back in time, a time when the Ponderosa was a real place and Bonanza was more than a TV show. Pam and I watched at least eight different herds of Elk interact within this valley. The bulls would bugle and challenge each other while trying to keep their own cows in submission. Some would bugle, doing so from a distance, while others would be close enough to almost come to blows. I don't know if I could even begin to put this feeling into print, but the sounds of these bugling Elk echoing through the valley was beyond description. There was a peacefulness and sense of oneness with nature that we were experiencing and it was awesome. We sat there for perhaps forty-five minutes, looking through the binoculars knowing that our camera and lenses would hardly do any justice to what we were experiencing. I can't help but reflect back to the experience that we had at Oxbow Bend and to what a difference it was.
We had not taken a shot, but had experienced something far more important than the actual photographic experience. We had experienced nature the way I believe it should be experienced. Granted, this is the exception rather than the norm, but for me, it was the way it should be - Sorry No Pictures. As if it was necessary to apologize for not having taken a photograph.
In all fairness, I believe we all want to have a special photographic experience and that's okay, but if you lose track of the natural experience, the experience of the out-of-doors and why we are drawn to photography, then you've missed the real point.
Years ago, my friend Dewitt Jones wrote an article in Outdoor Photographer on what it would be like if we had the ability to capture images in our mind without the use of a camera. I believe it was called Minocuvision or something like that. You could look at any scene through a simple pair of binoculars and have the ability to capture that image or embed that image in your mind. Of course, it was an article about the experience, not the equipment used.
The point that I want to make to you, the reader, is that photography is in fact a great tool and a beautiful medium. It allows us to capture on film or digitally, that special moment in time. But, if we don't have the camera, we still have an opportunity to experience nature and our surroundings and perhaps develop a greater appreciation for what really is important in our lives. So I say to you, once more, with that little smirk on my face: Sorry No Pictures !