The three difficulties: “The first is seeing neurosis as neurosis, and the second is being willing to do something different. The third difficulty is the aspiration to make this a way of life.” Pema Chodron
Ask yourself if you really want to stand in a corn field on a 90° day, waiting. Second, try your best not to get run over by the train. Third, if you blow the highlights on the headlight pretend you meant to do that and lie like a dog. 🐶
It seemed like a perfect day to go back to bed and fantasize about winning the Powerball. An hour after that thought I was standing on the tracks in thirty degree weather waiting for the steam engine in Strasburg.
I saw it in the distance and got out of my car to find that the wind was twenty miles an hour blowing directly into my face. But since I like a challenge I set my camera to speed priority and gave it a shot (26).
Tears were streaming down my face, I was almost shooting blind, and the only other photographer probably figured they were tears of joy. Maybe some of them were, but at that point I was once again thinking about taking up golf.
While the composition could be better I was surprised that the image was sharp and was glad that I forced myself to go out. To be honest my obsessive compulsive photography disorder got me out but it didn’t matter.
I probably won’t win the lottery tonight and if I do I have a feeling I’ll be doing the same things in the same way. Maybe I’ll pull up to this spot on a brand new motorcycle, but I’ll still be standing there with a camera, waiting.
“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” Susan Sontag
I went down to the railroad this morning to try to get an image that was different than just a train. Even these beautiful old engines blowing steam out in a huge cloud is less exciting the more you see and photograph it.
I missed the blowouts anyway so I was talking to this man who was working with oil and grease and what impressed me was that his clothes were as clean as in a Tide commercial. All I could think of was that he probably embraces clean living unlike the characters in the cult classic Trainspotting.
As one of the junkies in the movie said: “We start off with high hopes, then we bottle it. We realise that we’re all going to die, without really finding out the big answers. Basically, we live a short disappointing life; and then we die. We fill up our lives with shite, things like careers and relationships to delude ourselves that it isn’t all totally pointless.”
If only they did less heroin and ate more vegetables their attitudes would probably be completely different. Or not.
The famous little engine that could, inspiring millions of other little engines is known for saying: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I know I can.” But in this case, even with the Herculean effort of the pit crew his brakes could not be fixed and the little engine went home to practice his positive affirmations.
So basically, take it easy, take it easy, don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy. Lighten up while you still can, don’t even try to understand. Just find a place to make your stand and take it easy.
One night when we were teenagers my friend Jeff jumped in front of a train because he thought it was the best way to handle things at the time. A group of us had gone to the movies and as usual Jeff was out of control drunk. After another argument with his mother, a recovering alcoholic, he made his way to the tracks and waited.
Somehow he didn’t die but only broke his pelvis, and he continued to drink as heavily as before. He had his problems: two alcoholic parents, one who shot himself playing Russian roulette and a couple of missing fingers from a homemade bomb explosion, but which one caused such deep depression? Maybe all of them or maybe something else.
I lost touch with Jeff in my late twenties and watched other friends attempt to handle their depression in various ways. Most drank and did drugs as I did, and as time went by several ended up dead. After a breakup with his girlfriend my friend Cary tied a bayonet to his steering wheel and drove into a bridge. Others overdosed or shot themselves, and a former boss chose hanging.
Forty years later I still continue to struggle with depression and see many in the same boat. A photographer I used to follow, Don Graham, often wrote about his battle with Bipolar disorder and several months ago took his own life. He was in therapy and on several medications.
Depression is a fight we have with ourselves, completely created by our thoughts and we get stuck there. Antidepressants will only take you so far and often the side effects are unbearable. Therapy may help, but unless they’ve been there themselves it can seem like just words they learned from a course in college.
I think of depression like a train: Sometimes you can see it objectively, and despite all the smoke and noise you can distance yourself from it and get through the day. Other times its headed right for you, and like my friend Jeff, you stand there as it runs you over.
My favorite author, Charles Bukowski wrote: “Nobody can save you but yourself and you’re worth saving. It’s a war not easily won but if anything is worth winning then this is it. Think about it. Think about saving your self.”
Lightroom presets may not save you but they might be able to save you some time in post processing. Even if you don’t like the effect you can learn how it was created by looking at the applied settings, then just reset and start over.
The above photo is a RAW file converted using B&W Sombre Street, which is one in a set of twelve free presets called Street-Photography by Contrastly. Another set of presets I’ve found useful are offered by ON1.
Between the two there are ten free sets contain well over 150 different presets as well as free brushes for making local adjustments. Installing and removing them is as easy as shooting a bald eagle at the Conowingo Dam with a $12,000 600mm lens, maybe even easier.
All presets work with Adobe Lightroom 4, 5, 6, and CC. I downloaded mine a long time ago for Lightroom 3, so if you need that just do a quick search for older versions. Don’t forget to apply sharpening and noise reduction to your photos, they leave that up to you.
This photo is far from perfect but it took me ten seconds using the preset versus at least ten minutes to convert to black and white manually. Other than recovering some blown highlights you would never notice the difference at this size anyway.
Remember, you can’t save a bad photo; you can only convince yourself that it’s not a bad photo.
Note: Thomas is not in this facility to get clean and sober, he’s just having a bath. I feel it’s important to point this out for those who think that all trains come from the wrong side of the tracks.
Hinayana is a Sanskrit term literally meaning the smaller or lesser vehicle. So how does this affect me, the average spiritual seeker you might ask? I’ll give you a simple yet crystal clear example, none of that finger pointing at the moon stuff.
Yesterday I was at the Strasburg Rail Road where hundreds of people gathered to ride Thomas the train. Compared with the larger steam engines, Thomas was clearly the lesser vehicle (no offense intended).
Or so I thought until I saw this miniature steam engine which actually runs on coal. There seemed to be a serious debate going on, probably about the vehicles or paths known as Hinayana, Mahayana and Tantrayana Buddhism.
Chögyam Trungpa once said: “We must begin our practice by walking the narrow path of simplicity, the Hinayana path, before we can walk upon the open highway of compassionate action, the Mahayana path.”
I didn’t ask if this lesser vehicle was headed for the open highway of compassionate action, but with all those little train fans running around I think it probably was.
I was at the Strasburg Rail Road yesterday watching them plowing the line all the way to Paradise (the town) with something called a wedge. It was a beautiful day and I could see that spring was right around the corner, as sure as I was standing there shooting icicles.
I was as sure as eggs in April, as sure as the steeple bears the bell, as sure as an obligation sealed in butter. But the Vernal Equinox marks the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator, it does not mean that the fairies come out to dance.
I will be up at 6:28 am on Monday though, camera in hand, just to make sure.