What does it mean to take a photo anymore: A road trip triptych up the Coastal Highway

What does it mean to take a photo anymore:  A road trip triptych up the Coastal Highway

All was quiet in the car as we took in the beauty of the rapidly moving, and at times, blurry landscape.  Serenity, how many of us can experience such a moment? The American dream passes us by or perhaps we pass the American Dream, as we drive and drive through the night.  As we passed the farms and cattle, I took a hundred pictures as if I hadn’t seen such sights a hundred times before.  Each farm that I photographed represented a different slice of the American dream. Some of these farms are no longer family owned but are instead owned by a mega-corporation. Many of these farms have hands that are calloused and bloody praying for upward mobility. Some of these farms are waging an epic battle with mother-nature. I clicked away wondering about the layered stories therein.

I have an old-fashioned camera where I can gear the clicks of the shutter. I was recently asked at an event if I could quiet my camera down. We tolerate so much noise physically, mentally and spiritually, in our lives nowadays. However, the click of a camera is considered disturbing and intrusive as now phones and iPads can just as easily take photos without making a peep. I suppose with said mobile devices the cameras therein can take more candid photos. Candid photos can reveal much of a person’s soul when it is unfiltered. However, does a photo ever go untouched anymore? We are left to wonder about the naked eye and what it sees and what it is that is captured by these devices.

Did you hear of the recent ruling in Massachusetts that the peeping tom taking photos by placing his phone under women’s skirts was allowable? With an old-fashioned camera such a vile human act wouldn’t be so readily achievable. A big unwieldy camera that clicks away under a woman’s skirt would surely still be noticeable these days even if everyone is walking around with their faces head down staring onto a small screen. Then again no one recently on a San Francisco train noticed a crazed man pointing a gun towards many of the passengers. There could have been massive bloodshed that day because no one was using their eyes anymore to see what was roving about them. Sadly, if there had been bloodshed in that car without a doubt everyone would have pulled out their cell phone and videotaped or photographed the aftermath. A hundred and one photos would have quickly been taking with a screen press and a few would have then been uploaded immediately onto twitter and Facebook; some wishing for viral status. Question is how many would have taken a few minutes to really look at and examine the photos. What story could they get out of actually taking in the scene?

As we left Wilmington I noticed a ship several hundred yards away. From that vantage point it looked majestic. The closer I got, it appeared to just be an ordinary, perhaps decommissioned ship.  I chastised myself, as of course, I held some odd fantasy about the ship. It seemed so regal and stoic from far away. It seemed like something out of an animated film. What was the ship waiting for? Who was to board? I kept taking photos as we got nearer and around the ship. We were facing it head on. It seemed other-worldly in that moment in time. I clicked away. Amazingly, as I now peruse the photos the emotions and storyboard I had constructed in my head were captured by clicks and shutters.  The ship in all its majesty appeared slightly haunted and mysterious.

We continued onto our coastal highway trip on up from Florida to New York. We were crossing one of the largest bridges in the United States from Virginia into Maryland, all the while on Chesapeake Bay.  The bridge is called The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and it is a magnificent sight to behold.  The Bridge/Tunnel is 23 miles long.  As you cross it, a sense of history and awe envelop and overwhelm as the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay and a grand engineering feat of a bridge all converge.   While the view is breathtaking, the bridge itself has been noted to be one of the scariest in the world because of the high winds and length.

We passed ships still in the waters. We drove under massive rugged beams. We quickly went through a dark long tunnel series.  We went from the open waters to artificial islands in the stream to long-swept golden landscapes.  Perusing this series of photos in which you can see the life of a ship and the impact of the waters on the land, I am reminded that on March 9th 1841 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the United States v. The Amistad case that captive Africans who had seized control of the Amistad carrying them had been taken into slavery illegally.   Ships have grand significant symbolism both in history and in our dreams.

The US coastline, ships, and the farming landscape are overflowing with history and stories that continue to propel us forward.   Photos exist to remind us of our past, ground us in our present, and frame our future.  When you have a dream of a ship it can mean either being safe and content or it can signal that you feel lost.  The meaning behind our photos, just like our dreams, is very much contextual and time-bound but not fixed.

Inspired by the weekly writing challenge of: threes

7 replies »

  1. I really like you writing on capturing serenity. It is great when serenity is signified in 2 and 3 dimensions such as photography and sculpture. Oddly, the noise of music has the duel effect of offering up an understanding of serenity. Should I want, ever, to determine just how I am travelling, my favoured method is to see if all of the attachments that support my life could be purged. Just to sit in the quiet and ponder that nothingness. Ah! Nothingness and a road trip. What a great life! B


  2. You know it’s interesting from my side of fence, I was one of the farmers you speak of on farm a Dairyfarm (SE. Australia) in fact. Once a year we used to have an open farm day where city people could come and spend time watching the farm operations, feed stock, and have a hay ride.etc Perhaps they do that in America as well.


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