Guest columnist Terry J. Martin has been a professor of English at Baldwin Wallace University since 1989. He posts much of his best photography on Instagram, where you may follow him at https://www.instagram.com/terryjmartinphotography/
When I bought my first DSLR Nikon camera in 2011 at the ripe age of 52, I hardly expected it to change my life. Yet almost from the moment that I pulled the camera out of the box, two wholly unsuspected passions took hold of me, as if I had been secretly harboring an unknown self inside me for years.
First, I became absolutely enchanted by the possibilities of fine art nature photography. Second, I became oddly enamored of birds, which soon emerged as my favorite photographic subject.
Although my mother had been both an avid birder and photographer, those seeds had failed to take any root in me until long after her death in 2004. Then, as though making up for lost time, they seemed to sprout up like Jack’s proverbial beanstalk.
Indeed, I came to feel my mother’s spirit alive and well inside me.
Other revelations ensued. As a backpacker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail, among other long-distance trails, I used to be focused on getting to the destination. However, the practice of photography has taught me to slow down and to become more attuned to the natural beauty around me.
Indeed, no matter how tired I am, the mere appearance of a photo op can transform the wettest, coldest, rockiest, muddiest or buggiest trail into a playground of aesthetic delights.
There is, for me, a Zen-like absorption akin to rapture, not only in artistically composing a picture through the camera lens, but also in the post-editing process, in which programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop offer an almost limitless array of options for artistic enhancement.
Perhaps the most extraordinary impact of my photography, though, has been that of forging a deeper spiritual connection to the natural world. For instance, I had never before been particularly attentive to birds. Yet in the many hundreds of hours I have since spent in their company, they seem to have entered my soul through the lens of my camera.
Perhaps the best illustration of this occurred during a nightmare in which I found myself vividly reliving the hurricane-force winds and subzero temperatures I once encountered on a climb up Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
Just as I was facing almost certain death in my dream, I suddenly sprouted raven wings and launched myself straight into the wind. To my amazement, the winds provided the essential uplift under my wings that permitted me to soar above the storm. Far from being dashed violently against the mountainside, I discovered that I was not only safe and well, but actually enjoying the ride.
It was the visceral experience of becoming a bird that revealed to me my own capacity for transcendence.
Of the many rewards of practicing fine art photography, who could have foreseen that it would teach me how to fly?
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