So I’m out early this morning taking pictures and I pull up to this horse that seems to be deep in thought. I talk to him to try to get him to face the camera but he ignores me, so I took one of him thinking about whatever it is he’s thinking about.
Then he turns to me and says: “You,” he said, “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain.”
This is one of the stars of Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Rides in Bird-In-Hand Pennsylvania. He pulls tourists around at a blistering speed of 5 miles per hour several times a day, day after day, month after month, and year after year.
It’s not a bad job compared to the work other horses do on farms but he hates every second of it. He feels that he’s wasting his life, that he could be doing something better, more important. At times he considerers faking a leg injury but worries he might end up as glue.
Eventually they will throw him a retirement party and give him a gold shoe for his years of faithful service, and let him live out the rest of his life doing whatever old horses do. He’ll stand in the middle of a field and stare into space, wondering what to do now, and what it all meant.
And he might realize that his job wasn’t so bad after all. He was good at it and he was needed, he had friends that liked him although he bitched and moaned all the time. He might realize that he could have made the best of it and even enjoyed it.
Alan W. Watts once said: “This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” Even if you do the same thing for the same people in the same place over and over again.
Young Jacob comes running in the door one afternoon as excited as a rooster at dawn and pleads his case: “Dad-Dad-Samuel Stoltzfus is finally selling his buggy for only $3000 or best offer! Can you buy it for me-please, please, please?
Even the Amish know that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is, but he’s a good kid and it’s about time for him to have his own vehicle. So after milking the cows they go down and take a look.
Dads been around buggies all his life and he knows his stuff. He walks around slowly and looks for repairs to the body. Then he inspects the rims as well as the suspension and lights. Its bad, probably run into ground by Eli and Amos those hooligans. But Jacob sees only independence and freedom.
Dad says: Tell ya what son, at the end of the corn season you can have my old one and I’ll see about getting myself something new. Jacob is a little disappointed but in November he’ll be 16 and that means Rumspringa. He knows that patience is a virtue, and with a buggy and a little luck he might just end up with Emmas.
It’s hard to appreciate the effort it takes to park like this with such precision until you’ve seen it. First they convince the horse to back into a spot, then they unload the family and send them ahead. The driver now has to unhitch the horse and tie him up to a post, ideally in the shade.
The second horse and buggy driver goes through the same procedure, lining his up perfectly next to the first, and the next and the next. It’s a beautiful thing really although I’ve never seen the reverse procedure, which must be a lot harder.
It seems like an overly complicated way to park, and I’ll have to ask them one day, but they’ll probably tell me: “Sell kann ennichpepper duh.” Which means anyone can do that.
I stopped at the annual Lancaster County Carriage and Antique Auction in Bird-In-Hand this afternoon. This is a big deal here for the English (non Amish) and the Amish with a separate area for horse and buggy parking.
The auction was in full swing and everyone seemed excited to be there, except for the horses of course. Fortunately it was cloudy and breezy so they weren’t roasting in the sun. They knew it was going to be a long wait as auctions tend to drag on, and most made the best of it.
Some sulked and hung their heads waiting patiently, and some were literally chomping at their bit to get the hell out of there. But others, the more outgoing ones, told each other stories and discussed the parable of the Chinese farmer. Maybe yes, maybe no.
It’s been said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity. But it’s also been said that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
So I was at Walmart this morning and I remembered a photo I took of a horse and buggy back in early March (Overexposed at Walmart). I had overexposed it accidentally but decided the result was “more interesting than all the other shots that have histograms like the Himalayas.”
There he was, the exact same horse and buggy in the exact same spot (the horse knows the way) so I shot him. And again I overexposed but purposely this time, converted to black and white and called it art.
I did the same thing slightly differently and expected the same results, so this is either a variation of insanity, madness or a combination of both. According to one definition, insanity is the state of being insane while madness is the state of being mad. Oh.
In his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker wrote: “The road to creativity passes so close to the madhouse and often detours or ends there.”
I’ve been to the madhouse and although I didn’t bring my camera, the photographic possibilities were endless. Maybe next time.
In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki writes: “In our scripture it is said that there are four kinds of horses. The best horse will run before it sees the shadow of the whip. That is the best one.
The second one will run just before the whip reaches his skin. The third one will run when it feels pain on his body. The fourth one will run after the pain penetrates into the marrow of his bone. That is the worst one.
When we hear this story, perhaps everyone wants to be a good horse-the best horse. Those who find a great difficulty in practice of Zen will find more meaning of Zen. So sometimes I think the best horse is the worst horse and the worst horse is the best one.”
In this case, the best horse took a break from eating his lunch to let me take his photo.
When I drive through this part of Intercourse on a Sunday morning, I usually see at least 20 horse and buggies traveling on the back roads. Sunday is their day for spending time with family and members of the community.
I don’t know a lot about these so I did some research. Modern Amish buggies have brakes, an electrical system for lights and turn signals, and are available in any color you want as long as it’s black.
The asking price for this beauty is $3700, which may or may not be a great deal. The owner and the horse were not available, but I’m guessing that the horse is taking a much needed vacation. They work in the snow, rain, heat and gloom of night much like a mailman, but with fewer benefits and no days off.
As the Amish saying goes: “Alle Daag rumhersitze macht em faul,” which means sitting all day makes one lazy. Of course, of course.
As every fifth grader with a Hasselblad knows, getting the exposure right is not as easy as making a viral video of your cat. But by learning some basic principles, you can expose like a pro in just a few short years.
There is a well know method known in some circles as the golden triangle, which is not to be confused with Asia’s main opium producing area. The golden, or exposure triangle as it’s also called, is using the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed in the right combination to produce the results that you want.
Histograms can also be helpful, but like speed limit signs they are only a suggestion. The best way to learn exposure as well as other basics like metering, aspect ratio and composition is to practice.
Occasionally you may slightly overexpose a photo of something, maybe a horse and buggy in a Walmart parking lot, and realize that the effect is more interesting than all the other shots that have histograms like the Himalayas.
Play with the contrast in post processing, convert to black and white, and give it a title that suggests surrealism. Then, as if that isn’t enough, throw in a quote from Alfred Stieglitz such as: “In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”
Once you master exposure, practice photographing clouds and call them equivalents.