Monday, December 9, 2013

Photography as connection

Growing up in a small town north of Cincinnati, I lived at the edge of a small development, next door to a farm. Our house had picture windows, front and back -- living room in front, dining room in back -- and I vividly remember sitting down to dinner in the evening with the cows watching us through the picture window.

So I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that the scent of manure is not as unpleasant to me as it might be to some (I am reminded of the inscription on a statue of Mark Twain near the volcano on the big island of Hawaii: "The smell of sulphur is strong, but not unpleasant to a sinner.") But what did surprise me, a little, was my experience taking this picture. There's a lovely little red barn nearby, and as many sheep as there are cows. It was a lovely foggy morning, with that sort of blueness coloring the air, so I parked my car across the street, got out, and walked over with my camera.

The sheep -- which I mostly wanted to photograph, as their white coats were glowing in the fog, completely ignored me; in fact, turned their backs on me and continued chewing the grass beneath their feet. But the cows looked up and quietly watched the entire time I wandered up and down the fence, looking for a line of sight between the raspberry bushes. And so I eventually stopped trying to get a good angle on the sheep and shot the cows.

This might sound odd, but in shooting the cows, and in looking at this image afterwards, I felt -- and still feel -- this settling feeling in my heart, a sort of God's-in-his-heaven-all's-right-with-the-world sort of feeling. I think it has something to do with re-connecting with my childhood, that sense I had when I was young, sitting down to dinner with my parents, of safety, of home, of this is where I'm supposed to be and life is good.

And so I thanked the cows, put away my camera, got back in my car and drove away; they watched me, turning their big heads, until I was beyond the trees.

It was quite lovely.

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