We love it here at BoomerCafé when a baby boomer learns something new, then shares it with the rest of us. So it is with Robert Atkinson, professor of human development and director of Life Story Commons at the University of Southern Maine; Bob’s also the author of eight books. But the passion he has recently rekindled? Photography.
I don’t think I’m the only one. In the tapestry of life some threads begin strong, trail off and even disappear, but come back strong later on. That’s the way it was for me with photography.
Growing up in the era of the Kodak Brownie, Twin Lens Reflex, and Super 8, many technological innovations of the time captured my fancy. By college, I had a Mamiya Sekor 35mm SLR, and my first photograph was published in the East Hampton Star, a local newspaper. It was a black-and-white seascape with the sun shining through the dune grass.
My Mamiya helped me document some of my early adventures after college. But when my academic career began in earnest, it didn’t seem like I had much time any more for my camera. Then, there were many years I was without one. In my mid-fifties, though, I picked up a Leica point-and-shoot film camera that documented very nicely my around-the-world voyage as a Semester at Sea faculty member.
After everything became digital, I got back into photography even more with a Nikon DSLR. Still tempted to keep up with today’s endless innovations, my gear now consists of a mirrorless full frame camera, the Sony a7R, and the pocketable Leica C.
It’s nice to try to produce the best quality image, but the equipment we use isn’t the main thing; it is only an extension of who we are. What matters more is the eye seeing everything first, the heart taking it all in, and the mind … or soul … making sense of it all.
I think most photographers agree: see the scene first only with your eyes, before putting the lens to your eye. For me, it’s about being present in the moment, being conscious of everything around, finding a unique perspective, and composing first in my mind’s eye what could possibly become an iconic image.
The one constant for me in my photography, throughout my life, has been seeing the light, particularly the sun itself. Light is the source of all life on our planet. With the sun as either the focus that highlights everything else or a detail that can’t go unnoticed, any image has a better chance of having a lasting impact.
The sun is a metaphor of life. I like sunsets, and sunrises too. They represent the continual beginnings and endings of life. They punctuate every transition of life. They illumine the journey of the soul. They provide an eternal perspective on life.
Photography is a passion in my life that wouldn’t die. Recently rekindled, it offers new meaning through a deeper perspective that I now bring to it. My photography is less about a personal creative expression and more a sharing of the bountiful natural beauty all around us. Conscious awareness of the moment leads to conscious travel, wherever we happen to be, which results in conscious photography, which changes the way we see the world.
Robert Atkinson is professor of human development and director of Life Story Commons at the University of Southern Maine. He is author of “Mystic Journey: Getting to the Heart of Your Soul’s Story.”