Recently I have been working with a client to select a grouping of Tuscany photographs for her home. Whenever I begin looking through a collection of my images I start to recall the stories behind them and this image has a lesson that goes along with it. Although it has a particular application for photography, the concept extends to our entire scope of perception. Sometimes we only see what we are looking for and miss out on the endless possibilities that surround us.
In the fall of 2014 I visited Tuscany and was a staying in a farmhouse in the Val d'Orcia. Early one cold dark morning I set out for the Crete Senese to photograph the sunrise. The location was an area which I had visited previously and seen so many times in photographs, books and magazines and it was a 15 - 20 minute drive from where we were staying. Interestingly, although the scenery is immediately recognizable in light conditions early or late in the day, I had initially passed it up during midday the first time I drove by, not recognizing it and focusing on my driving (perhaps I was paralyzed with fear while being passed by one of the locals driving like a madman).
I recall the morning well. As I drove down the dirt road from the farmhouse to the main road, I noticed it lined with camouflaged hunters getting ready to head out into the woods with their flashlights. When I arrived at the intended location, it was still early and there was barely enough light to make out the landscape. This location is characterized by a famous cluster of cypress trees, protected by a fence, that stands alone in a field. As dawn unfolded I photographed the morning light moving across the landscape. I could hear gun shots in the distance and I watched as deer ran across a field and crested the ridge. It seemed that I was immersed in my surroundings.
As the light of day began to overtake the dawn, a van full of photographers pulled up along the side of the road and parked in the pull-off. This eager group, presumably on a photographic tour, excitedly jumped out and clamored down the embankment. They unpacked their equipment and set up their tripods, intent on capturing their prize image of the famed cypress trees. I watched for a while and approached to converse but alas, Korean is not my forte and they spoke almost no English.
As I walked up the hill I looked across the road. I noticed these glorious cirrus clouds set against the blue sky. Crossing the road and walking out into the field I began to photograph this scene. The light changes rapidly in Tuscany and the clouds roll across the sky altering shape and form as they go. This was a unique moment in time as the composition quickly disappeared, especially from this vantage point. None of the photographers down the hill would have seen this because their focus was in the opposite direction and on a different subject. Out of the collection of images I made that morning, beautiful as they are, it is this one I consider to be my favorite.
There is certainly a vital lesson in this experience. How often do we become so focused on a subject that we miss the possibilities around us? How many times is our perception molded by what we are looking for and we forget to turn around?