When I went to art school for the first time, I had never lived in a big city before and was feeling completely removed from any contact with wilderness. After three months there I went to an exhibition of paintings by Emily Carr, who starting around 1910 traveled the coast of BC painting its forests, beaches, mountains, Native villages, and totem poles. After months of city living surrounded by concrete, seeing her paintings struck me deeply. One painting however, The Red Cedar, held me in wonderment. I stood before it and fell into its rhythms...the rest of the paintings faded away...the talking of the people around me faded away...the people and their movements around me faded away...all I was aware of for what felt like fifteen minutes was, the painting.
I've been back to see The Red Cedar since then but saw, by comparison, only its surface.
The second experience was about six months after getting my 4x5 field camera gear. I was young and single, recently unemployed, not looking for work, and was completely devoted to studying the photographers I respected, the new demands on craftmanship with large format, and to hiking and photographing as much as I could.
One day in the fall I was hiking the Coho Flats trail with my gear...it was one of those spectacularly amazing fall days when the light is perfect, the fall foilage was bright and unblemished by any brown or dried leaves, and the air was crisp. As I walked deeper into the forest I gradually started to become more and more aware of finer and finer details. Before long I had given up any attempts to photograph and completely let myself succumb to whatever it was I was going to experience...I began to see all light reflected from all surfaces...I saw all movement...I saw all colours. When I reached the river I was exhausted, and slept for about a half an hour.
Both were a gift.
I do find it odd though, (as sure as I am photography is the means of expression most suited to me), that a photograph hasn't transported me in this way. I've been to Carmel and seen prints by the masters held in drawers in the back of galleries, and while mighty impressed, I didn't get swept away. With my own work the closest I've gotten is after days of contrast and dodging & burning experiments, and fine tuning of sharp and unsharp masks, finally, upon seeing the print when the lights come on the hair on my arms stood up...but that was one just print out of many. Which makes one ask, why continue working to advance when the dramatic rewards are so few?
What were your transcendent experiences?