Time is one of the great mysteries of life. The way in which moments elapse is fluid. While we have agreed upon a standard time to keep society orderly, the passage of time is deeply subjective. We have all experienced this. Moments of great boredom or anticipation seem to drag on and on, while periods of fun and elation seem to fly by. Even Einstein proved that time expresses itself differently throughout the cosmos with his theory of relativity. The way each of us experiences the passage of time is relative to our environments, momentum, and consciousness. Great athletes and artists agree that time can be slowed down when you become completely focused and total absorbed while competing in a race or creating a work of art. With a clear mind and a singular focus, time can be manipulated.
This slowing down of time is why I love photography. It allows me to capture and share a moment of singular focus. I can catch small moments that I observe – ones that occur at a fraction of a second, like fire burning. It’s also why I love nature. (New to my site? You would like my previous post, The Beauty of Nature.) Time and nature are so inextricable intertwined – the sun passing across the sky, the changing of the seasons. Yet time occurs very differently outdoors without the ticking of a man-made clock.
I recently went on a shoot, and wondered how another photographer might experience the passage of time while working. I poked and prodded him with all of the questions that flowed through my mind. One question, though, seemed most important:
“How do you know when you’ve gotten a good shot? Is it a feeling? Or is there some other verifiable way of knowing?”
I’m not sure that anyone had asked him this before. Silence blanketed us like falling snow in winter. The question was as much for me as for him. Suddenly, every moment where I had taken a photo flooded my memory bank. Years of trial and error, the good shots, the bad shots – they all made a sort of mosaic in my mind. Time suspended. We both smiled. I felt like I was floating over canyons and rays of light, traveling backwards through time to arrive at a future answer.
While it’s true that I can capture images at fraction of a second, I still feel something when I take a good photo. A mood, an emotion – something more than just idly clicking the shutter button. Then, the answer came to me so suddenly that I must have blurted it out:
“For me, I know when I get a good shot because of the way I feel. I get goosebumps and feel a sense of . . . nostalgia. The goosebumps happen because I see how perfect and beautiful the moment is. Then I snap the photo. I look at it happily, but then feel nostalgic. . . because that beautiful and perfect moment is now over. It passes so quickly. As fast as I have caught it, it has already disappeared.”
While the answer may seem melancholy, photography is such a joy for me. I enter that state of singular focus, where all I see are perfect little moments of beauty around me. While these scenes and moments may be fleeting, I’m so captivated by their charm that I lose all sense of time or identity. Time ceases to exist.
Jay Griffiths, a sociologist and author of “A Sideways Look at Time”, explains that the deepest, most ecstatic experience of time is when you lose it.
“In prayer, in meditation, in art, and in love, that is where people lose that frightful ticking of clock time. And what you fall into is something transcendent. All that you have to have done is to love somebody to know that. And to hold them for a half an hour, you can know that that half an hour has lasted an eternity. . .the moment meets the eternal. That is all that matters – just the moment that you’re holding in your hand.” (Jay Griffiths)
After listening to Griffiths’ ideas of time, I sat around and looked at the photos from my shoot. I studied them carefully, trying to summarize the ineffable feeling they evoked in me. Then I smiled as these words came to mind:
“It is a paradox – every perfect moment somehow lasts forever.”