Before the sun: A photo project

In Living Gently by JamieLeave a Comment

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It was early Sunday morning, the 29th day of December 2019.  Lizzie, the best dog ever, and I were walking through the park.  It was dark.  Valencia had just begun changing out the bright orange sodium-vapor street lighting in favor of LED lighting.  I noticed what I thought was an interesting, almost theatric scene.  I used my phone to make a photo.

This is the first predawn photo I made.

A couple of days later, Susan and I shared a New Year’s Eve dinner with our friends Mat and Kathryn.  Mat suggested we spend some time thinking about the year ahead.  He had even downloaded and printed a booklet from YearCompass.  The 18 page booklet helps you close your year and plan the next one with a series of guided questions.

LSS (Long Story – Short)

Between the YearCompass exercise and that one early morning photo, I was inspired to commit to a photo project.  I decided to try to make one decent photograph in the predawn darkness for every day of 2020.  Thank you Mat.

In the past 50 years I’ve started and abandoned more projects than I care to admit.  Many more than I have ever finished.  So, I figured that if I made a “public” commitment to document my walks, I might stick to it simply to avoid embarrassing myself.  Thankfully, a small cadre of siblings and friends have been kind enough to witness my efforts since the beginning of the year.

I really ought to clarify.  The purpose of my project isn’t to create a portfolio of publication quality photos.  I really just wanted to get myself to reclassify my morning excursions with Lizzie from a category labeled CHORE to one labeled JOY.

The truth is my cellular is probably four or five generations out of date and the photos I make are probably only  of poor quality by professional standards.  My sister, Jacki, helped me get over any qualms about sharing my less than perfect efforts.  She got me to think of the photographs as sketches, not finished art.  Thank you Jacki.

Eight Observations

Things Change

There’s nothing we can do to avoid change.  Sometime in January, I don’t recall exactly when, a huge windy storm made walking on the streets dangerous.  Lizzie and I tried, but after dodging a falling tree branch and being nearly blown off our feet (well I was swept, Lizzie’s four feet on the ground made her more stable) I decided a predawn photo didn’t necessarily mean an outdoor predawn photo.  I’ve used that escape hatch a couple more times.

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It’s all about illuminating the ordinary

4 am to 6 am

I’m exploring parts of Valencia that are familiar, but how different they are between 4 am and 6 am.  Avenues and plazas that are bustling at midday are usually deserted during those couple hours before sunrise.  That is, except for weekend mornings when the clubbers are literally staggering home.

Lizzie is Committed

Having a companion is a great way to stick to a project.  Susan is my workout buddy, but remains remarkably resistant to getting out of bed before seven o’clock.  Lizzie, on the other hand, is ready and eager to sally forth in the wee hours of the morning.

Chicago’s Got Nothing on Valencia

What a windy city Valencia is.

Darkness Stimulates Other Senses

Seafood restaurants announce their presence aromatically from nearby garbage bins.  Birds welcome the day much earlier than most people do.  When I smell bread baking, it’s  time to head for home because the morning traffic is about to pick up.

There’s Always Something

At first I thought about where a good photo might be and walked to that place.   I was afraid I would run out of ideas if Lizzie and I stuck to our familiar routines.   Lately, I’ve begun to walk without a particular destination in mind.  There’s always something I haven’t noticed before, even on the most familiar streets.

Lizzie and I are Pals

Susan and I were the fourth family to take in Lizzie during the first year of her life.  (I know, what were those other three families thinking when they gave up the best dog ever?)  Lizzie and I did agility training to help forge a bond between us.  We loved it and agility really worked.  We were as tight as new shoes.  After a while the lessons got to be a financial burden and we stopped.  Ten years later, these morning walks together have reinforced our connection even more than agility did.

Mindfulness Walking

After Susan and I did our first in-home yoga and meditation retreat for two, I started using the mindful walking guidance of Thich Nhat Hanh to mold my morning walks.  I have to admit that mindful walking can be a challenge while keeping track of Lizzie’s safety while crossing streets or when visiting some of the truly ugly places that are common in almost any urban environment.  But, I keep trying.

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Where To Now?

I've read that it takes anywhere from 30 to 100 days to form a habit.  In my experience it's closer to 10 days + 1 dog.   As long as Lizzie is willing, we'll be walking.  But soon it will be spring, when the earth slips toward the summer solstice.  Will I continue to precede the sun or will soft rosy rays begin to tinge my photos?  I neither know nor care.  This time is mine, open and unstructured.  

Jamie Wyant is a retired American living in Spain.  After a multifaceted career ranging from ecosystem science to digital marketing, he moved to Valencia in 2017 with his wife, Susan,  and their senior pets.   He writes about the joys and tribulations of living overseas.  Jamie also manages the technical aspects of GentleCycle.net

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