Romance in Photography

Lately, I find myself pulled into two halves. The logical side of me writes photography articles, historical facts, and how-tos. This is my dominant side. This is the side the makes me need to clean the kitchen sink before I go to bed and turn down the sheets evenly. (Nothing worse than crooked sheets when you're sleeping.) I embraced this side of me long ago, learning to spit out orderly lists in about an hour's time. However, there is also my creative side. This side surrounds itself with fictional characters, romantic verses, and colorful images. This side learned how to say "I love you" in Irish Gaelic (There are about a half dozen ways) and swooned at the beauty of Thomas Moore's, "The Kiss". 

It's hard sometimes getting my two halves to come together - making the logical line up with the illogical and it all make sense. I often do this through writing. However, I also do it through photography. Photography is in itself both a systematic and a romantic sport. There are those photographers who at the drop of a hat can tell you what aperture is needed with what shutter speed. They speak in focal lengths and mathematical formulas, distances, and levels of light. For them, photography is engineered; it is an orderly arrangement of items on display.

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Then there are the romance photographers. These photographers see life as a series of stories and images. You view their work, and it takes you some place in your mind you've never been. Worse yet, it makes you want to return there again and again. Their work becomes like that amazing first kiss, the one you've never forgotten, the one that spins in your brain over the years becoming a comparison to everything following after it.

What is romance anyhow? By definition it is "prose narrative depicting marvelous deeds, pageantry, or exploits; the colorful world; a romantic spirit, sentiment, emotion, or desire." (Dictionary.com) Given that definition, it seems to me there is much romance in photography. Language, words, phrases, and cultures have romance. They lift us up from the everyday and dance in our thoughts, sentiment ideals of beautiful things. They stir our feelings - love and hate, coldness or desire. So do photographs.

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Take images of the recent Olympic events. Some of what I've viewed was mind blowing. Ordinary people pushing themselves to extraordinary lengths to do something heroic, to be the fastest swimmer, the quickest runner, the strongest man or woman, to be the first in their country to accomplish something grand. Isn't that romance? Wasn't it romance when the "little guy" won a medal he or she wasn't supposed to win? Or when a man without legs ran a race alongside those who were seemingly normal?

And what of wedding photographs? Here's emotion, sentiment, and desire all rolled into one. Here's the look in his eye when he sees her, flowers clutched in her fingers and his ring on her hand. There is a picture of his heart palpitating, his palms sweating, and the trembling of her lips at his caress. Yes, very romantic.

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Yet romance extends even further than that. If romance is "the colorful world," then it also encompasses a myriad of things. It's a gentle sunset over reflective waters, extended out to the horizon. It's a garden bursting with flowers around an empty iron bench. It's a flurry of feathers as thousands of birds lift into the sky, their cries captured in an instant for all of time.
Romance is the eagle, broad wings spread against a glowering sky, or a tropical beach spread with peach-colored shells. It's the golden shimmer of dragonflies encircling a pond, craggy mountain peaks covered in newly fallen snow, and a lone sheep, his creamy fur blowing in a fierce wind as he perches on a ledge high above the earth. Romance is the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, the Appalachian Trail, the Everglades.

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Photography is meant to tell a story. Take any of your favorite pictures and ask yourself what you see there. If you knew nothing about how it was taken and you simply wanted to make something up in your head, what happened at that moment? Perhaps an elderly man, his back stooped with care, his stubby fingers soiled from hard work, laid down that work fork to rest. Maybe a girl and boy, hands clasped together, all of life shining in their eyes, carved their initials into that bench as fidelity to lasting love.

I like to think that with each image I take I pour in something of myself. Look at any collection I've assembled and I hope you see me, but greater than that you, as well. Life is a grand thing. In this day and age of debate and indecision, infighting and friction, we lose sight of that. We forget the beauty of breathing until our breath is taken away. But let's stop for a moment and smell the roses. Let's savor the taste of autumn and revel in the joys of spring. Let's open our eyes and for just one fleeting instant remember the splendor of wonderful things.