A rose has obvious beauty, and so people paint and draw them, ordain their homes with them in vases and on wallpaper, and grow them in their yards. The one pictured here grows in ours. It’s a sure, fail-safe kind of beauty. A picture taken on a foggy morning with the sun peeking through and illuminating tiny water droplets will never disappoint.
But what about this? No flashy color, no soft, supple leaves, no order pleasing to the eye. And yet I love the promise of downy seeds, ready to float somewhere new and start over. That’s why I agree with Robin Wall Kimmerer’s statement above. Every person, animal, and plant has a unique kind of beauty. It feels like my job — and privilege — to find and record it.
Kimmerer, in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, reminds us of reciprocity. If we take something from nature, we should give something in return. She gives the example of a basket: If we take tree bark and cattails to make baskets, we need to “[m]ake something beautiful in return.” Photography doesn’t actually remove anything by taking pictures, but I still feel obligated to use the image to make something beautiful. It’s not even “making,” it’s attempting to show the beauty that is already there.
It doesn’t really matter what it is. A mossy dead branch with mushrooms works great, so does a whimsical wooden fence in the woods at the edge of a town.
The more I connect with the object on an emotional level, the better the result. I have no interest in manipulating images — creating a new background or sky where an animal might look more impressive. I want to show the item or animal in its own surrounding and highlight the beauty that is already there. Sometimes it only requires a slightly different angle.
And sometimes you just need to be at the right place at the right time.