Seeing & Looking
Photograph: Puffin on open ocean off Grand Manan, New Brunswick.
It rained all day. Water from condensation dripped down the inside of our boat. Outside, winds blew thirty. Sailing in rain and fog for almost a week, we were bound for Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada, where we hoped we might catch a glimpse of a puffin.
But the puffins were invisible, perhaps hunkered down somewhere dry. On our last morning before tying up to a mooring, the seas calmed as it grew light. Far off, we spotted a flock of five birds at rest on the water. We cut the engine to drift towards them.
Seeing the boat approach, the puffin flock took wing. A sole puffin remained on the water’s surface. It began to paddle away from us. I lay still on our boat’s bow, moving only to focus the lens. The puffin’s body filled the frame. In that instant before the bird flew away, a shutter opened and mortal time expanded beyond the rhythm of wing beats. Then all was still again.
In his book, The Art of Stillness, writer Pico Iyer touches on the essence of stillness. He wrote: “Movement makes most sense when grounded in stillness. In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention.”
Teacher and photographer Minor White at the Rochester Institute of Technology often demonstrated the power of stillness. He advised: "First, be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence."
White’s suggestion is apt. I believe this puffin image only happened because we remained still until our presence was acknowledged.
The next time we feel pressured while photographing, perhaps then we have an opportune time to practice a slower photography. Being grounded in stillness and silence, we clear the mind of all but the heartbeat of our passion for photography.
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages