Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How digital photography saved my marriage and gave me a few peak experiences along the way


Duck River Bottoms, Tennessee River
Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. Dorothea Lange
Is there anyone left on the planet that doesn’t have photography as at least a minor hobby?  My hope is that by sharing my passion for photography,  readers may begin to dial it up a notch.  If you do, be prepared for the wonderful ride!     

I did not figure this out on my own, but had to learn it from my non-photographer husband.  In late life he decided to take up the hobby of bass fishing.  He had a rather backwards approach to this hobby—most wives only have to put up with an absent husband over a Saturday or Sunday.  The husband keeps the bass boat in the garage, hauls it out early Saturday morning, attaches it to the pickup, and is gone for the day.  The wife is left at home to her own devices.  The very purpose of a bass boat is its mobility, so that different water can be explored.  But my husband wanted only to park his boat at a marina, and go fishing in the same creek every single time he fished.  Since this particular creek on the Tennessee River is two hours away from our home in Memphis, that required me to either not see him for the entire weekend, or accompany him on an overnight trip.
I don’t like to bass fish, and ever since attempting to play doubles tennis with him in our thirties, I have tried to avoid sharing hobbies with him anyway.   After a few times staying in the mobile home at the creek,  I decided I needed to find something to do to keep myself occupied.  I’m not saying the mobile home wasn’t luxurious.  It actually WAS!  It was the top of the line model in the 1960s when his parents purchased it.  The décor was to my taste—retro with avocado green kitchen appliances.  Unfortunately the dishwasher was  nonfunctional.   And the town?   The people were wonderful, and the small town ambience was quite nice.    But when it came to food, the small size of the place led to some issues.   I am far from being a food snob, but it was never my dream to spend a lot of time in a place where Taco Bell won the restaurant of the year award.   A burger and a beer would be fine for me, but It is not fine with this town, who decided to make it a “dry” county.    I therefore had to cook in the "spacious" mobile home kitchen with food purchased  from the nearby Super Walmart.
But there is one huge plus, and that is  the fabulous Tennessee River.  I wasn’t surprised when Rick DiClemente told me that the two water signs Pisces and Aquarius  were prominent in my astrological chart.   I have always loved water.  Most people have flying dreams but I have swimming dreams.  One night I dreamed I swam down the entire length of the Mississippi River, and I woke up euphoric.  When I do have flying dreams I am doing breaststroke in the air, breathing motion and all.  But the problem with bass fishing is you don’t get in the water, you only look at it. And the river gets a bit too chilly for comfortable swimming in the winter.
I needed a hobby to survive this.
First I tried sketching, and I even took a course.  The course was fun because I got to chat with the other students, and look over their shoulders at their drawings to compare them to mine, ignoring the instructor’s guidance to NOT do exactly that.  I should have realized then that sketching wasn’t going to exactly be a Zen experience for me.  Everything went well until about twenty minutes into my first sketch on the Tennessee River.  I had all the things I needed, including a cardboard with clear plastic marked off in squares to gauge perspective.  What could be wrong?   There was no community with other sketchers, and this was a bit tedious.   I was simply bored, and put that hobby aside immediately.
My second attempt at a hobby at the river lasted a bit longer—collecting driftwood.  I was particularly delighted with this hobby because it made my husband nervous!  Yes, I am perverse like that.  He happens to be a bass fisherman who is afraid of snakes.  (He calls this "healthy respect for snakes.")  In any case I loved showing him my fearlessness, at least until the time I almost fell out of the boat trying to retrieve a particularly heavy piece of driftwood from the river.  He was actually a real help with this hobby, and almost fell out of the boat himself once.   But I never seemed to get around to sanding and sealing the stuff I collected, so it started reminding me of just another chore that remained undone.   After Hurricane Elvis covered the whole city of Memphis with tree limbs in 2003, I stopped being enamored with any kind of wood as decoration.
Enter digital photography as my hobby.    I could go out in the boat with a camera and take photos of anything I happened to see-- mostly birds, turtles, sunsets, barges, boats, and maybe a few fish, caught by my husband, before he released them back into the river.  Here is one of my first photos of a great blue heron taking off from the bank.    Yes!  I had a great angle, and the bird was framed perfectly in my lens.  The wings were spreading, and I clicked!   Because I know you are wondering how I happened to capture this moment so perfectly,  I’m mimicking my writer friend Lee Stokes Hilton’s cooking blog  Spoon and Ink by ending my first entry with a recipe.

1. Find a partner with a bass boat.
2. Make sure that said bass boat has a trolling motor, with an operator that likes to turn in circles without warning.
3. Ignore “image stabilization” on the camera.   
4. Pretend that the result is a planned expression of Nineteenth Century Impressionism. 
With that auspicious start, photography entered my life, and I believe that now, after over five years of photography, in fits and starts,  I am now ready to drop the “rank” from “rank amateur” when describing my skill level.  And you too can have fun!  Pick up that camera and get busy!


  1. Love your descriptive writing style.

  2. Thank you so much! In the future I plan to allow the photos to speak more for themselves (I hope).

  3. very cute. Loved the impressionism. :D . But don't look now, Aquarius is actually an air sign. Yes, 'tis true.

  4. Oops, Patricia. Maybe that is why I was doing breaststroke in the air in my dreams. Funny!