While speeding through the Panhandle of Texas on my yearly visit to Dad’s, I always see on my right, off in the distance, Cadillac Ranch; where in the middle of a farmer’s field there are ten graffitied Cadillacs planted nose first in the dirt, with fins pointing to the clouds, like an alter to some long lost God of automotive technology. And every year I drive right past the exit and swear to myself that next year I’ll stop.
This year, as I was again driving past the exit and again swearing to myself that next year I will definitely stop to finally take the photos that I’ve been dreaming of (and avoiding) for the past so many years, I made a vacuous decision and brazenly swerved across two lanes of traffic, barely making the exit at seventy-five miles per hour. A hard brake, a cloud of dust, a right turn onto the frontage road, and I was on my way to fulfill a photographic fantasy ten years in the making.
My heart was racing and I was actually excited as I pulled up to the gate, and directly in front of me; I saw the sight that had been silently taunting me as I always sped past. There it was! Cadillac Ranch! I was finally going to capture and preserve it forever with my camera.
My enthusiasm quickly faded as I realized that this moment wasn’t just between me and the monument. There were other people, lots of them. Some even had cameras, trying to seize what was mine.
I sat in my car and watched the tourist, families, kids, amateur photographers, and many taggers, scurry about. After few big contemptuous sighs, I unenthusiastically decided “What the hell? I’m here! I might as well shoot something.”
I got my big, expensive camera out of its big, expensive bag, put on a big, expensive lens, a big, expensive filter, got out of my big, expensive car and trudged dispassionately into the farmer’s field. Of course, it was muddy from melting snow, and even though I tried to only step on the dry parts, within a few minutes my sneakers and the bottom of my jeans were covered with heavy Texas mud. “What a disappointing day this is turning out to be!”
As I walked toward this object that had been my desire for years, the heaviness in my heart (and on my shoes) stated to lift. I raised my camera and began to snap, but every time I thought I had my shot, some tagger, tourist, or little snot-nosed brat would wander into my frame, ruining what I was trying to accomplish.
Finally, with a frown on my face, I planted my butt down on a dry spot of earth and waited. Of course, my butt was bigger than the dry spot so now the seat of my pants was also wet and muddy. “Great! Just great!”
I watched the people enjoying themselves, enjoying the cars, smiling, laughing, taking photos with their point & shoots, taking selfies with their cell phones, or just simply standing and contemplating the sight before them. As the sun set on me, my artistic vision, and the Cadillacs, I contemplated the steel structures, the on-lookers, and then, myself.
Wow! Self-reflection can be difficult, especially when you don’t like the image you see. Here I was sitting in the middle of a muddy field in the middle of nowhere with my big, expensive camera in my lap, and doing nothing. I was upset, frustrated, not getting my shot, and certainly not enjoying myself.
I thought about this, and thought, and thought some more. And I came to the realization that as my photography evolved, or devolved as the case may be, I had arrived at the point where I wanted total perfection in everything I shot. I tried to control every single aspect of every photographic moment presented to me, and if I couldn’t control it, I just wouldn’t shoot it. I wanted no mistakes! No flaws! Just perfection! And while hiding for years in the controlled environment of my studio, using only the latest and greatest equipment that money can buy, I lost something. I lost spontaneity. I lost sight of the moment. I lost my heart for the art in photography. I lost myself.
I looked up, and again started watching the tourist and taggers. They were having fun, they were part of the moment, and not only did they help create it, they had become part of the art.
And that’s when I had my “a-ha” moment.
With a smile on my face, I got off my butt (literally & figuratively), and came down from my high-horse so I could become part of the moment, part of the shared experience, and capture the art as it was revealed to me. And by doing this, I once again found my passion, my love of photography, and most importantly, I found myself.
And yeah, I got my shot. The one I dreamed of…
Lon Casler Bixby is a professional photographer and published author in various genres: Fiction, Poetry, Humor, Photography, & Comic Books.
See his writing here — www.amazon.com/author/loncaslerbixby/.