When Tom Burke was here yesterday I got a chuckle from a picture he showed me that his daughter, Jude Burke, a journalist in London, posted on her Facebook page. It was captioned "This was meant to be a photo of the frontrunners in the London marathon elite men's race but they were too fast for me," followed by a smiley face that was slanted so it looked like it was moving.
Photography is an activity that is peripheral, secondary, to seeing, which is the main activity we're engaged in. We look around the world—often with much greater acuity than non-photographers, since looking is a learned skill—and we take photographs of the things that interest us for whatever reason.
Well, we try. Sometimes we make photographs, that should be. Sometimes we miss them.
Because naturally, when you're heavily involved in looking and seeing, a lot of what you wish you could "capture" in a photograph proves impossible to "get."
I started writing about photography when I was 30 and I started this blog when I was in my 40s, and I'm now on the cusp of 60. Two things that strike me as the biggest changes for me personally as those years have passed—first, personal memory photos are getting much more important to me and attempts at fine art are getting less important, and, second, the list of pictures I missed is getting very long—almost as long as the list of pictures I've managed to get! I remember a surprising number of them, too. It's a category in my head of "the ones that got away." (I've written about that before.)
My brother brought with him a box of old photographs from my mother's house. This is one that I'd either never seen before or had forgotten (but I don't forget many pictures). Xander and me by Lake Michigan, getting on 20 years ago now (not quite). This is the kind of photograph that's getting more important to me as I get older. And it brings another way pictures can get away—we lose them! Or just never see them, or miss them on the way by.
Jude's picture is one main type of the ones that get away, though—a photo where you just fail to capture what you're after. The other main type, I'm guessing, is when you see something wonderful and you either don't have your equipment with you or it's just the wrong equipment. Back when I photographed almost entirely with B&W film, for instance, naturally I had a mental file cabinet of pictures I'd seen that would have had to be in color.
How about you—do you remember any that got away? Is there one in particular you wish you had but don't?
From me to you, carpe diem. :-)
(Thanks to Jude and Tom)
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Featured Comments from:
Bob: "I completely agree. I'm in the process of going through my mess of digital and paper photographs and few of my attempts at art are as important as my people photos. My 'ones that got away' are too many to remember specifics. Missed opportunity is a normal part of my photography. One of the drawbacks to chasing better photography through new cameras and lenses is not knowing how to use them when you need to react quickly. But this one has nothing do with missing a shot and everything to do with having new equipment.
"I used my wife's Miata to take my mother to a family dinner. With the top down. My mother was excited to be in a convertible on a beautiful summer day. After we got her situated in the car, which as you know is not made to transport people with limited mobility, I took a couple of photos of her with the most delightful smile on her face. She unexpectedly passed away a couple of weeks later and I was going to use one of those photos to show at her remembrance. But it was gone. I'd formatted the card to use in a new camera. I tried everything to get the image off the card but it was gone. In my mind's eye its a much better photo than the actual image, I'm sure. And maybe that's as it should be. But I really wish I had that photo."
Mike replies: :-(
m3photo: "Yes, Michael, we are indeed akin to anglers in many respects.... ;-) With regard to your wonderings, there are also those that 'get away' for a different reason: hard disk crashes, aargh! I won't bore everybody with details but just knowing you had them to then be told after considerable expense that they are no longer, is most painful."
Mike replies: Indeed.
Dennis: "I have a picture of a tree in the woods. The very same tree where, a minute earlier, a black bear cub climbed up several feet and looked at me, while its mother and sibling kept moseying on up the hill. I had a backpack full of gear and a tripod along with me, but wasn't prepared to be able to take a picture 'now'! I knew I'd never get the camera out and ready in time, so I just enjoyed the moment. Of course, it took quite a while before I heard the end of that...'three thousand dollars in camera gear and you don't even get a picture of the bear?'"
Rick (partial comment): "Personally I think there is too much emphasis on photos as visual objects (which they are) but conflated with two-dimensional art such as drawing and painting. I prefer the view (from Willy Ronis) that they are much closer to writing and literature. Think about this for a moment, and compare photos with diaries, essays, poetry etc., etc., and I think you get the idea."
Mike replies: That's a really fascinating notion, and one that I hadn't encountered before. Do you know where Willy Ronis elaborated on that?
Kevin Purcell answers Mike: "The Willy Ronis quote drifts around the net unattributed (as with many photography quotes): 'Photography is far more a part of literary art than it is of the plastic arts.'
"Unfortunately, Willy Ronis didn't say it. Pierre Mac Orlan did say it when writing a letter to Ronis telling him what he must do to get his proposed book Belleville Ménilmontant published. The quote appears on page 31 of Peter Hamilton's book Willy Ronis: Photographs, 1926–1995 but the full text isn't in Google Books. This book at the bottom of page 126 does quote Hamilton quoting Mac Orlan so you can see what he said in context.
"Mac Orlan eventually wrote the text of the first version of Belleville Ménilmontant published in 1954 so one might check there (in French) as he said 'that would be the theme of my preface.' Or buy Hamilton's book which seems to be still available new only from the publisher. It has 120 Ronis photographs in it."
Andy Holman: "Years ago I went on a trip to Australia and really wanted to see and photograph a platypus. I assumed I could only see one in a zoo and was amazed (and a bit skeptical) when an owner of a caravan park said we could see wild ones from a bridge the next morning. Next morning came and we went to the location. Being skeptical I walked out on the bridge without my camera to see what was really there. Looking down into the water there was a platypus swimming directly below. I then dashed back to the van to get my camera. When I returned the platypus had swum upstream and was but a dot in my photo. So I saw a platypus in the wild before even going to a zoo but learned not to be so skeptical about local advice."
Joseph Brunjes: "I was going to try to paraphrase what he said, but instead you should hear the eloquence of his own words. This is William Albert Allard talking about not being able to get every photo he sees."
Mike replies: "You didn't get it but you saw it." That's great—great video, thanks.
Jeff Montgomery: "Luckily, fairly early in my career I read Dewitt Jones' 'Basic Jones' column in Outdoor Photographer where he talked about the photos that he missed and how it was actually OK to only have it recorded in your mind. Lots of pressure was relieved in my mind about missed shots."
Robert Fogt: "When my mother died in 1984, I found this empty envelope among her faded treasures in that top dresser drawer that everyone has. It has been one of my treasures ever since, and I have been adding to its contents for over thirty years now. (But it hasn't gotten any fatter!)"