you cannot claim
to have seen something
until you have photographed it.
I spent several days in northern Michigan earlier this week at my brother Mike’s cabin in the woods. Near blizzard conditions the day before I arrived had deposited almost two feet of snow on forests and fields. Photographs beckoned everywhere.
One afternoon Mike took me to a small bridge over the Pere Marquette River. It was quite lovely—smooth, dark water sandwiched between two smoothly curving lines of snow. I made several images, but something was missing. I think what was missing was me.
So I stumbled down the steep embankment and made my way to river’s edge. Mike watched me carefully from the roadway as I stopped here and there, turning, looking, photographing. Once he shouted, “Don’t go any further!” Later he told me that the ground I thought I was standing on was actually thin ice.
But being next to the river, quite near the water, up close to the floating pancakes of ice, was the only way I could visually interpret that sight. It took me fifteen minutes of moving and stopping, waiting and watching, to see, finally, that languid river and those snowy banks for what they were—a darkness channeling its way into a quiet whiteness. Even then I could have stayed until sunset and seen what was there more clearly and with greater appreciation. And I know, I’m sorry to admit, that I would have walked away still having seen incompletely. I photographed this sight, but I still hadn’t truly seen it for all it was worth.