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A Photographer's Story

This is an article I wrote a couple of years ago as the cover feature for Berthon Lifestyle, a yachting lifestyle magazine published in the U.K. It was one of those times when the words came together extraordinarily well to help me express what photography means to me, how I approach it, and why I share my images.

 

A dozen years ago my husband and I surprised ourselves by making an impulsive, pre-retirement decision to purchase a bluewater sailboat located in New Zealand, ideally situated for exploring the prime cruising grounds of the South Pacific. My first (as it turned out, naive) impulse was to cultivate an artistic hobby to fill the leisure time generated by our idyllic new lifestyle. Many options – oil paints, watercolors, pastels – were discarded as too messy for a vessel’s tight quarters. Finally I settled on photography and embarked on not one, but two new adventures.

The best camera, as they say, is the one you have with you. Photography on a boat can be pursued with a smartphone or a pro DSLR. It is neat and clean and portable, whether on deck or ashore or 

even underwater. Add a computer and appropriate software for organizing and editing the images, and the onboard studio is complete.  

A good image should relate a story to the viewer, not simply recreate a scene but instead share an insight into the very essence of what first captured the photographer’s imagination. It may be about how the interplay of light and shadow illuminates a seascape for a brief magical moment. It may be about reflections on glassy water, or how a bird’s feathers flare in flight. Perhaps it’s a story of village life, a new friend, a beautiful scene, or the devastation of a storm.

But there’s a second story that accompanies each image, and that is the story that belongs solely to the photographer. The travel, the gear, the camaraderie, the solitude, the discomforts, the challenges, the accomplishments – all are embedded into the making of that simple rectangle. Not just sight but also sound, touch, smell, even taste, are part of the experience. Whenever I review my work the memories come flooding back to let me relive the adventure once again.

As an example, the image 'To Breathe' tells the viewer the story of a mother whale helping her 

new calf breathe in clear blue tropical water. But for me it contains the hidden short story of how she first swam away from me, then changed her mind and returned to within touching distance of her own volition, lingering passively in the water next to me, eye to eye, observing me as I observed her, while her baby slept.

An even lengthier version of that narrative begins with a 6,000 mile journey to the tropical kingdom where the humpbacks congregate. It includes my history of previous whale-watching expeditions led by professionals, where I learned whale behavior and how to observe them in the water safely and respectfully. It is colored by a Sunday morning sail in search of a cooperative whale, and the frisson of excitement as I donned snorkel gear, grabbed the underwater camera, and slid into the water from off the stern of the boat.

Each photo, that deceptively simple click, is embedded with two stories, one for the viewing public and one for the photographer alone. To produce them with forethought, investing time and energy into making them the best they can be, is to embed that memory even more deeply into my being.

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