|“The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.” - Annie Dillard|
It is incredible how life can be at once so ordinary and so rich. Today was an ordinary day, and I’m not sure I would have truly noticed the mountains or the cracks in the pavement or just how beautiful the students and grass and buildings are had I not looked. Most of the time, I’m just as good as colorblind because I’m so accustomed to how beautiful my world is that I no longer see it.
“Prelude” by Muse begins with the same tolling piano note. It is small, repetitive. And so I begin with a small crack in the pavement. The photograph is gray; there isn’t much to it. Added strings and piano chords build on that initial tolling note, but they are the same chords and riffs in a pattern – the music is still calm and plodding. With my photographs, I too build just a little, in height and even a bit of color. You can see a shoe near the crack in the pavement, then a couple of people, then a crowd. It is an ordinary day. I have not yet looked deeply. Then the scale ascends and crescendos, and you see a golden staircase that winds upwards from the cool-colored floor into the bright blue and light above, until the music bursts into a high and glorious choral note, and my photographs have found the ceiling, the sky, and color. They are oversaturated, expansive like the music, capturing mountains and tall towers as the bright afternoon becomes a colorful evening then a glowing, surreal night. Blissful strings sing downward scales, intertwining with one another, winding down just as the sun slowly fades in my photographs, until a final tense note reaches upwards and abruptly ends. My final photograph is of the highest thing I could see: The moon, but it is not represented the way a person would see the moon on an ordinary day. Its light was too bright for my camera, and so it nests blurrily and beautifully in the oversaturated night sky. Slowly, my camera has helped me see the mountains and trees and people as bright and beautiful and glorious. It is as if, as Annie Dillard did, “I blurred my eyes and gazed toward the brim of my hat and saw a new world,” (108) that indistinct yet magical and pure way of seeing, the way the child with new sight saw “the tree with the lights in it,” where light pierces the soul (109). Yet it is fitting that the final note of “Prelude” is high and tense, because, as Annie Dillard remarks, we cannot always “try to see this way…[we’ll] go mad” (108).
And so the song ends, my photographs are finished, the day draws to a close. And as I walk back home, the moon is just the moon and the night is ordinary again, but in my heart that little piece of magic, captured for a moment, lives on.
Quotes from Annie Dillard’s essay, “Seeing,” published in “Seeing and Writing 4” complied by Donald and Christine McQuade.