The Sweetest Surrender
Oregon · USA
Of all the photographic volumes I’ve had the pleasure of studying, David Doubilet’s stunning Water Light Time may be the most influential I’ve encountered thus far in my photographic journey. Doubilet is a master of underwater and marine wildlife photography, a genre I just can’t ever see myself dipping even a pinky toe in: The unimaginable vastness of the sea coupled with the sheer dread of how it must feel to drown just doesn’t float my dinghy one iota (pun most definitely intended). And so perhaps his preternatural affinity for immersing himself in foreboding waters and extreme climes to deliberately come face-to-face with any number of sea and land creatures capable of biting, batting, clawing, injecting, poisoning, stinging, maiming, impaling, dismembering, eviscerating, trampling, ambushing, or otherwise harming him in such vulnerable conditions only exalts the already lofty lore and wonder with which I regard him and his body of work. Having had the privilege of seeing him present live on stage on two separate occasions as part of the Nat Geo Live series, once in The Orpheum in Minneapolis and again with his wife and fellow fearless photographer Jennifer Hayes in Portland, I can readily attest to his fortitude (and correspondingly my lack thereof) in positioning himself to observe wildlife in a way few humans ever have or ever will, much less immortalize them in jaw-dropping images that I know are far more about years of back-busting work, unwavering dedication, and hard-earned skill than simple happenstance. Water Light Time for me, then, was a journey into the impossible, a foray into the unbelievable, and a visual record of the indescribable, an essence that’s been largely unchanged in all the times I’ve leafed through the book since.
When I first purchased Water Light Time, I sped home and breathlessly combed every page from front to back, my senses like a sweltering desert overcome by a sudden monsoon rain after years of merciless drought. Inspiration and wonder sprang off the pages and drenched my pores to saturation, overflowing the gullies of my artistic ambitions in a torrent of impossibly high standards. I knew then and there that I would never be a photographer, could never be a photographer, given my commitment to a career in medicine that I knew would squelch any opportunities for the time and perseverance it would take to accommodate the repeated strikeouts that I knew belied Doubilet’s utterly flawless compendium of images.
By unconventional and fortuitous turns, though, I eventually picked up a camera and began firing away, honing my technical skills and cultivating a vision I can ever more confidently call my own. And in the process, I’ve had to shed many a preconceived notion or “rule” about what constitutes a so-called good photograph. I cannot and will not deny the role that external influences and self-imposed but sometimes misguided pressures have played in the visual and experiential aesthetic toward which I gravitate now, even as I work hard to distance myself from those days when I was rather given to popular sway—not out of any particular disdain or regret about the more well-trodden paths I might have explored, but out of an intense calling to seek out scenes that now always must resonate inwardly on a deeply personal and authentic frequency.
But even as I take great pains to forge my own idiomatic course, there’s a certain braided theme that I just can’t seem to escape—indeed, I’ve come to believe it’s the very polestar of my photographic endeavors and has been, I think, from the start. Whether first with a pocketable Pentax 35mm film point-and-shoot to a 3-megapixel digicam with a disgustingly long shutter lag to now a near-flawless 42-megapixel interchangeable lens camera and everything else I’ve wielded in between, the few images I’ve made that most deeply quell the hunger pangs of my expressive soul almost universally interweave three elements in still-frame matrimony:
And, of course, time.
And in those rare moments that I find myself in the presence of their fleetingly sublime union, I’ve come to learn that resistance is futile.