Photography not only captures slices of life, imprisoning them in tiny rectangles to view and contemplate, but it also mirrors life in the complexity and seriousness of its choices. Unlike the more fluid nature of the written word, whose creative freedom allows time to bend and wrap around a given moment–often within the insightful context of past experiences and multiple sources – photography serves only the instant.
It stands alone, sometimes holding hat over heart as the patriotic life-parade of events marches by. Other times it tries to measure up to the history of the moment, the significance of a specific event. Sometimes, the height is too great to be cleared, the obstacle too distant to be overcome without extending a personal best. An athletic and spiritual leap of faith to the next level.
There is no magic target that lights up when the moment is right. There are no orders from a dark, computer-lit command center to pull the trigger.
There is only the choice of the moment. The hope that, somewhere hidden in the rectangle, "X" really does mark the spot and the frantic, gentle squeeze of the shutter release is worthwhile.
Playing on the edge of light and shadow, faith and frustration "Where’s Waldo?" is smiling.
Somewhere the capture in the rectangle is worthwhile and offers an insight into something we cherish, play witness to or have experienced first-hand in another place and time.
Whether it’s the beauty of a harvest sunset as we speed forever forward to our appointed destinations, the insight of a kid learning a potential life-saving plan of escape or the awkward grace of winning, with a handful of medals for a job well-done, photography is the record of what we do – the people, the places, the everything.
If the written word is history’s first draft, then photography is its first vision.
The first golden light of a new day.
The ultimate thrill of an unexpected victory.
An unusual moment. A moment where things are not as they should be. A small dog standing in casual comfort on the back of a sheep. Out of place.
Or the candle-lit procession of a 700-year-old icon as it rises up the steps to a church’s sanctuary, affecting those who were there because, well, they were there.
Photography doesn’t report from the safety or comfort of a newsroom or hotel. Every image we see is because there was someone actually there, behind the camera. In the dirt, the rain, the cold, the snow, the blistering, sweaty sun.
The glorious light of every moment we have the honor and privilege to behold.
If we’re lucky and stay true and open to the moments we are given – listening to, but not always following, the words of the armchair quarterbacks who were never on the field – maybe we will come back with a favorite rectangle or two to share.
They are what we make of them, what we make our mistakes with and – hopefully – what we learn from. To help or to hinder.
From this place, a thousand moments in 2009 and a handful of favorites.
These are mine.
See Matthew B. Zimmerman's 2009 Pictures of the Year