The pictures I could never take
“When I got my first camera at fifteen, a hand-me-down 35mm Canon from my uncle, I eagerly took pictures of everything I laid eyes on in suburban New Jersey. ... But I also became obsessed with the pictures I missed. The more I thought about documenting what I saw, the more keenly aware I was of the moments I failed to apprehend.”
I felt something similar yesterday. Saw a swarm of moths lit brilliantly by their destination, that halogen street-lamp just outside my balcony. I had seen something similar last year, perhaps during the same week, maybe on the same day. Those bright spots moving disorderly near the lamp convinced me that the moment was worth capturing. I imagined it would make a nice long-exposure image, somewhat like the archaic structure of the atom that Ernest Rutherford had proposed. And then I noticed the bats! Must have missed them last year. Navigating the invisibility of sound, they showed up at this source of light to catch the poor insects with spectacular grace. Countering chaos with order, they flew like arrows to seize their prey. Before going inside to get my camera, I lingered on in praise for half-a-minute more than I should have. And then I wasted two more in swapping lenses. That was just enough time for another lesson about the ephemerality of such precious moments. The bats had disappeared, and the swarm was nowhere to be seen. The moment had gone. Maybe I’ll do better next year.
- Lucy McKeon (The New York Review of Books, February 2018)