Everywhere you look these days you’re confronted by images of others who appear to be gardening, cooking, exercising, traveling, or just plain living, better than you are. If the copious postings of your “closest friends” on social media sites weren’t enough to convince you of your total inadequacy as a human being, you can always open a magazine at the checkout counter or surf internet sites in the evening and thoroughly wallow in how beautiful the lives, gardens, houses, parties and vacations of others are – compared with the banality and simplicity of your own.
Why fight it? The photographic evidence is enormous. Pick up one of those organic living mags. On the cover you’ll find an artsy wedding cake sitting in the middle of a soft focus field, marzipan flowers whimsically nibbled by sweet-faced goats with shining hooves. Three pages later you’ll find a community garden party lit entirely by hanging tea lights in Mason jars, as guests sip signature cocktails and presumably discuss heirloom seed saving until the wee small hours. If present, children are small and discreet, and always dressed in gingham.
Now pull up one of those lifestyle websites. Gasp at the beauty of brioche waiting for a hot oven and the step-by-step instructions that include artistic dustings of flour in all the right places. Flip over to the gardening site that manages to make withered stands of teasel look like architectural statements and a messy potting area, one of the coziest rooms of the garden.
Then walk outside and look at your own potting area. Gaze at a four week old pile of browned and vicious rose canes. Look at a galvanized pail filled with oily water and wiggling mosquito larvae – pupating as you stand there swatting at their parents. Stare at the strawberry six-pack that never went into the ground in May – and then go back inside, don your hair shirt, and stare once again at the the image of an Austin rose that’s never known anything but the purest of health in the best of conditions in the kindest of lights.
Cynical? Moi? You bet your life. But I have a very good reason:
I know how to use a camera. But perhaps more importantly, where my skill ends, I know how others know how to use a camera. And that, in a nutshell, is why all those captured cakes and teasel and brioche and gingham dressed munchkins can make us feel like we’re not really living the dream…but someone else is.
Our lives are made up of a thousand still-lifes, sound bytes, video clips and slow-motion moments every day – we just don’t see them. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to have an artistically observant friend record an event, place or moment for us and present us with the polished results; but generally, these moments pass us by and we assume they don’t exist.
Whether we need the validation of an artsy shot of our tomato plants is a matter for another day (and a professional therapist). But it’s important to realize that a camera can change the ordinary to the extraordinary in 1/320th of a second.
When you or I take happy snaps in the garden, we set the camera to automatic, and invariably come up with busy, cluttered photographs. So try something new. If you have a more advanced camera, pop the aperture up a stop or two and discover the world of soft focus. If you don’t, then use a macro pre-set, tighten in your frame and fool around with compositions made up of one or two objects.
For instance, take a few minutes in the early morning to observe the pairing of a Boston Fern resting on your porch next to a soil-encrusted trowel. On a tight off-center focus, they are transformed into fine art. There are still lifes in your kitchens…in your living rooms….in the freshly washed stack of towels sitting on a cluttered table waiting to be put away. Ignore the mess behind them – or better yet, make it a still life of its own.
And if you simply can’t capture that moment with your camera, at least you took a moment to observe it in the first place. Tuck that observation away and reflect upon it when you insist upon flipping through magazines, websites, or heaven forbid, the Facebook page of your greatest high school rival. Once you’ve figured out that there is a wizard behind that curtain, you’ll spend a lot less time beating yourself up and a lot more time seeing your own magazine moments.
Open your eyes…find that shot…I promise you, it’s there.