The Time-Traveling Photographer

One thing I love about photography is the ability to, in a sense, travel back in time. Yes, actual time travel is impossible – not just technologically, but logically; but I digress. Photographs allow us to be transported mentally to a moment that is of value to us. As a photographer that is especially true, because I can not only go back and look at my images at any time, but I also have a large quantity of unedited images sitting on storage devices that I can go back an edit when the urge strikes me.

When I edit these photographs I’m focusing on details. I’m not only looking at the colors, but at fine points in the clouds or trees or rocks that comprise the image. I have the opportunity to explore the scene in a way that I may not have even done in person. As I do this, it reminds me of little things from the day – an earthy smell, the sound of geese flying in the distance, or perhaps the feeling of the breeze brushing against my skin. Sometimes it’s a specific memory. Other times, it’s a mental recreation based on a myriad of similar experiences. It doesn’t really matter; it’s true to the moment, and it’s valuable to me.

It may seem banal at this point to talk about photography bringing one back in time. It’s cliché. I get it. But perhaps we let the mundane joys of art get lost sometimes, in an effort to be novel. It may not be novel, but I find the fact that we can capture the light of a given moment and hold on to it indefinitely to be extraordinary. These moments cannot be reproduced. You can never go back, it’s utterly impossible. Time marches on relentlessly. And yet, here is this moment standing in front of me, a testimony to the fact that yes, that memory is real. It hasn’t confused itself with some long forgotten dream, or been created by some quirk in the wiring of my brain. It really happened, I was really there, and I can embrace that moment as reality.

These images all come from a spectacular day in the White Mountains in 2017. I got up very early and drove up to the mountains so I could hike for about an hour to this spot. I was hoping for a glorious sunrise over the mountains, but when I arrived it was drizzly and cloudy. I hoped things would clear up, but when I reached the top, I could see even less than I could at the bottom. I was disappointed, but given the effort it had taken to get here, I thought it best to wait a bit. I’m glad I did. After an hour or so of waiting in the clouds, things started to clear. As it lifted, this almost heavenly light began to break over the increasingly visible autumn colors below. I was all alone, my only company the occasional gaggle of Canada geese flying across the valley. I stayed at this spot for a couple of more hours, and took hundreds of images. What a morning!

I’ve been a little homesick recently. I love Japan and I believe in the work my family does here, but I still miss home. I suppose it happens every year around this time especially. The closing months of the year are especially nostalgic. I’m glad I have so many unedited images from that day. It gives me a chance to travel back and experience it all again, almost as fresh as the first moment the clouds began to break.

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