For Christmas this year, my brother gave me his old camera: a Nikon D80 DSLR. Capture beautiful things, he told me.
Matt and my dad are amazing photographers. They have the eye, the creative mind, the skill and the perspective to freeze some of life’s happiest, incredible, drop-your-jaw-and-forget-to-breathe moments.
I went out with my brother the other day, and followed him as he took pictures. I walked behind him through the quiet hills of Allegheny, tried to keep my fingers warm as the snow fell gently around us, stood in his exact pose and pointed my lens at the same things.
Matt has always been a capturer of beauty, I realized as we walked, as he pointed out to me the green of the moss and the layers of rock beneath the small stream. “There’s no way your shot will be as good as mine,” he said at one point, grinning cheekily, and I saw him then in layers—as a four year old, fourteen, twenty-four, and I remembered that I have loved him—all his years on top of each other—for a very long time, and I already love everything he will become.
I like two of the sixty eight photos I took that day. Photography, I’m learning, is like writing, music, architecture, design and painting, in that like anything worth doing, it is full of failure and disappointment. It is full of the words no, wrong, try again, below par, until finally, you capture something that sounds like a maybe. It is sitting down in front of your work after a long day and thinking, that is not at all what I meant to say. Then it is taking note of the failure, thinking about ways to fix it, rolling up your sleeves, and trying again in the morning.
If graduate school taught me anything, it is the pertinence of the rough draft. I thought standing at the same angle, in the same place as my brother would give me the same picture—that I would immediately capture something beautiful. Photos and words are like plants and the first draft is always only the scattering of the seed. Ideas are meant to be cultivated, fertilized, watered, weeded, given space and sunlight to grow, and the rough draft is only the access point for digging up what is beneath the surface. Failure, I learned from school, is essential to the creative process. It is only when we realize that we haven’t got it right that we can see a work’s potential for improvement.
I look through my dad’s photos and my brother’s and feel only admiration; I watch my dad brainstorm chemical compositions on the whiteboard and feel only amazement. I listen to Matt play the cello and feel only a thin place—where the gap between the spiritual and the physical grows small. I do not see their failure: the wrong notes, the miscalculation of an element amount, the grainy picture. I see only beauty—but it is the failure that made it so. Maybe failure is the catalyst for capturing what is truly beautiful—the flower instead of the soil. Maybe the layers of all our years and failures will pile up and up, until one day we will stand in the presence of the Lord, surrounded by all his majesty, and say this is what I tried all my life to capture, and this has made every failure meaningful because it prepared my heart to welcome this.
“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.” —Madeline L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light
**Photos by Matt Genders—none of mine were good enough to let the internet get hold of them.**