Copyright © 2011-2012 Ilona Goin.  All rights reserved.  Garden of Light Photography is a service of Opus 9 Media LLC.

By Ilona Goin
Light Source, May 2011

At an exhibit in downtown Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago, a man studied my photographs closely. I stood to the side, giving him room to make his examination. With artists from several states exhibiting in the gallery, he turned to me and asked, "Where are you from?" When I told him I'm from the Twin Cities, he started asking questions. He was convinced that we ought to have met—he knew everyone in my circle, he claimed. My response hadn't fit into his world view, and his disbelief led him to question its veracity.

The mismatch between his own certainty and the facts made his mental gears slip. His mind had nothing to hold on to, and it showed in the blank stare and objections. I was quite content that our paths had not previously crossed, and wasn't about to give him my address as proof of residency. He was just going to have to continue down the road of life with that amazing faith in his own analytical powers without further input from me. There is nothing you can do for a person who prefers to hold on to his own version of things so firmly that he can't make room for the truth.

I also met a woman who studied my photographs, then stepped in my direction. “What kind of flower is that,” she asked, pointing to the photo in question. “I don’t know,” I answered honestly, then smiled and added, “I’m not a botanist, just a photographer.” She seemed to think the answer over for a moment, then gave a little nod. Whatever her own perspective was, she accepted my right to approach it my own way.  Her reaction showed that she was flexible and tolerant of diverse views. She was a breath of fresh air after the rigid man.

People can be miles apart due to upbringing, education, faith, attitudes, and personal experience. It means that two people, of the same age and from the same culture, can stand in the same spot looking at the same thing with just an hour's interval and be as far apart in point of view as are a lion and a zebra.

© 2011 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.
By Ilona Goin
Light Source, May 2011

Life is short and places many demands on our time and energy. It requires us to prioritize, to focus in on a few things we love, through which we can serve others. Because I have many irons in the fire, I have to be selective about where I put my attention.

I'd love to know all about the flowers I shoot, but the time required to learn, and the benefits I would derive from that knowledge, are not equal to the time I would have to put into it. My time is better served in the field taking pictures, learning more about photography and editing programs, or writing words and music.  There is a whole lot more that would be fun to know than I can fit into a lifetime.  

Consequently, I can tell a Hybrid Tea from a Floribunda or a Climbing Rose but, beyond that, I have a limited interest in flower classification. What matters to a home gardener or commercial grower does not necessarily matter to a photographer. I see flowers as living art more than as biological specimens. Call me a Philistine if you must, but I don’t care a whole lot about what they are as long as they look beautiful and speak to me.

The interaction usually goes something like this: A flower invites me over to take its portrait, and I introduce myself. “Photographer here,” I say as I approach with my gear. I do approach gently, feeling as thought I’m on sacred ground amidst the divine miracles of the garden. “Rose here,” the rose says, in the sense that it is what it is and that it happily displays its true nature. Flowers, unlike people, are never two-faced: they have an honest character and friendly countenance. I’m a straight shooter too, so we enjoy each other’s company.

With introductions out of the way, we’re good. There is no further need for me to share my Norwegian-Danish-Swedish-German heritage, or for the rose to go into detail about its own lineage. We’re here now, and the light is right. It’s a great day for taking pictures, so I get on with it, adjusting my tripod and testing camera settings. Meanwhile, the rose relaxes in the summer heat and does whatever roses do all day. Life in the garden is mighty good.

Humans have a curious need to pigeonhole and label things before they are fully prepared to embrace and appreciate them. They seem to say about so many things in life, “Tell me what I’m looking at (and whether it is popular) and I’ll decide if I like it.”

Really? What happened to knowing your own heart and mind and going on gut feelings? Have we become so exclusively cerebral that we can’t respond to life instinctively and intuitively anymore? Must we tag and label our experiences, as if they were specimens to be cataloged, instead of just letting things be?

Flowers, on the other hand, have no idea what they are, nor are they concerned about what I am as I traipse around the flowerbeds. They just sit there and look patiently skyward as I study them from every angle and fiddle with my gear. Sometimes, too much information is simply too much information. An excess of analysis keeps people from opening their hearts to the experiences they are in the middle of. While people are chewing on data, life is going by at the speed of a quad-core computer chip, and thus passing them by.

The mind is capable of keeping us constantly occupied with thinking. It's an okay life, I suppose, but nothing compared to what you can experience when your heart knows how to stop the chatter so that you can hear what life has to tell you. What really matters is to live fully in the moment, enjoying the wonders of the here and now.

© 2011 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.