Random, chaotic, beautiful.
Over the weekend I took the first longish walk around the wetlands so far this year, and brought my camera along for the ride. The plan was to capture some pretty winter scenes, but I really wasn’t happy with the quality of any of the photos I took. Most of what I came back with entirely unusable.
There’s an active online group of wildlife photographers in my local area who regularly vie to out-do each others’ photos. The quality is extremely high, thanks to their inordinate amount of patience and thousands of pounds worth of equipment. But even these pale in comparison to the stunning works of art on display at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum.
I’ll often take my camera with me when I walk, snap a bunch of pictures, then delete them all. Wildlife photography is an incredibly difficult skill. Even when you’ve mastered the art of rapid focus and composition there’s still a huge amount of luck involved.
Most of the photos I take are of a brown blur at best.
But perhaps that’s reflective of real life. When we see people performing highly in their field, the years of progress are often hidden. The superficiality of social media encourages us to showcase the highly polished end result, and none of the experimentation working up to that point. The years of trying and failing and trying and failing are hidden away.
Even in the natural world, many of life’s greatest creations are mistakes. Some of them are long-lasting and define an entire an ecosystem: genetic accidents, random mutations that unintentionally give an organism an advantage over its competitors. The reason why giraffes have long necks, kangaroos jump, and birds fly.
Other mistakes are fleeting. The way a gentle morning mist catches the sun’s rays, ethereal and dreamlike. A coating of hoarfrost on the bud of a hazel tree, white and crystalline and infinite in its possibilities, a sparkling pattern of ice that will never be repeated in the same way again.
An asteroid as old as the solar system itself, travelling for untold millennia, destined to end the legacy of one aeon of life and pave the way for another, entirely different, story.
The universe is chaotic and random. Imperfection is life.
Let us embrace it.