This is the time of year for best-of lists, so I’m taking some stock of my own work during the last year. There was lots of change this year, some of it good, some of it not so much. The objective and the challenge, as always, involves finding a worthwhile goal and putting your shoulder against it.
Photographically as well, 2018 was interesting year. During the 18 months ending at New Years 2018, I visited a number of new places, including five national parks that I haven’t visited before. All of that was fun and provided interesting challenges photographically. But much of that travel photography would seem to contradict one of the key themes of this site, which focuses on the landscapes of the upper Midwest. But I also had opportunities to photograph in rural areas of this region.
The poet, Christian Wiman, said that “poetry increases the stock of available reality.” But what does that mean? I think it refers to the fact that most of us go through life immersed in the struggle to get through the day, striving toward objectives that are more accepted than deliberated, and in doing so we miss a lot of what’s in front of us. When we pause long enough to look, or when something interrupts the short-term focus that stands between our routines and the larger, deeper beauty of reality, we can be confronted with the astonishment that Annie Dillard wrote of when she said, “We write to give voice to our own astonishment.”
Flannery O’Connor said, in a letter that the role of art is to increase the sense of mystery in the world. And she went on to note that contemporary people have a lot of trouble with mystery. Or at least my generation does. I’ve heard that part of the popularity of books and movies like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter is that they return some sense of mystery to our lives, and that appeals a lot to members of generations more recent than my own. My generation doesn’t seem to want much mystery in our lives. When confronted by mystery, we want to identify it, measure it, categorize it, label it, replicate it and control it—in which case it’s no longer mystery.
But life does include mystery. Life is bigger than homo sapiens and the parochial concerns of our species. Our lives will be richer when we realize that. And accept it. So one reason to work, whether our work is writing, photographing, painting or dancing, is to find bits of reality, add them to the existing stock, and give voice to our own astonishment. Here are my efforts over the last year.
Hope you have a great year in 2019 and beyond.