Tonight I attended another free lecture at the Annenberg Space for Photography. The featured photographer was Beth Wald. She spoke for an hour, first discussing her interest in photography as a feature of her rock climbing and other outdoor adventures, and then she spoke about how photography has become a means of preserving the environment and the cultural traditions of indigenous people around the world. Beth’s work has been published in National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian, Outside, and many other periodicals. She also helps environmental groups wherever she can.
She said that there are people who fault the camera for being a shield, something that creates a barrier from experiencing the world, but she said, for her, it is more of a portal that enables her to have relationships with the world.
She spoke about her heroes. Dr. George Shaller, an American mammalogist, biologist, conservationist and author. Schaller is recognized by many as the world’s preeminent field biologist, studying wildlife throughout Africa, Asia and South America. She also mentioned Douglas Tompkins, the US co-founder of The North Face and Esprit clothing companies, who died in a kayaking accident in Chile, this past December. She has had opportunity to work with both these men.
Beth has spent time in several countries. She is currently doing a project in Ecuador, but she has traveled to Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cuba, and Patagonia for work as well. She spoke eloquently and intelligently about her travels. Her stories began with sound geographical detail. She exhibited sincere sensitivity to other cultures and her work felt compelling and original.
After I left the lecture, I was thinking about all she has accomplished in her life and I was reminded of a time when my husband and I were watching a television show about a prolific television producer. He had accomplished trillions of things, made advances in his field, and had left a legacy. As the program was ending, my husband turned off the TV. We sat there in silence for a moment and then he said, “Wow, what the f*** have we been doing with our lives?”
This was funny coming from my overachieving husband. But that was exactly the sentence that came to my mind tonight.
As I made my way across the path between buildings, I made pictures in my head- the moon perched on the edge of a building; an elderly couple fighting over their parking ticket yet still holding hands; a young woman smiling into the glow of her phone, darkness behind her.
I wondered about whether the camera is a shield or a doorway.
I got into my Jeep, and rolled all the windows down and drove down Santa Monica Blvd. into the chilly night as my radio played, “Wild World,” by Cat Stevens.
It was a good night.
344 days to go.