I remember in my grade-school years being fascinated by the stories of the great explorers. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to sail across an uncharted ocean, to venture into an undocumented land not knowing what kind of plants, animals or even people one might find there. The stories of the trappers who figured out the veins of rivers in North America or sailors who figured out the currents of the seven seas and used them to delve deeper into these mysterious places enthralled me. Why was I so fascinated by these daring figures? I think it was because I was a particularly timid child who preferred to take an adventure in a book rather than climb a tree. But I did have my moments such as when I explored the attic of my grandmother’s house, stomach all a-flutter while climbing those dimly lit stairs to discover long-forgotten boxes and furniture covered in years of dust. What a find!
The list of explorers is endless: Daniel Boone, Christopher Columbus, Roald Amundsen (South Pole), Robert Peary (North Pole), Henry Hudson, Francis Drake, Neil Armstrong, Coronado, Ponce de Leon, Ferdinand Magellan, James Cook, Marco Polo, and more. And this list doesn’t include the arts and sciences! There is something inside of humankind that drives us to want to know more; to see something that no one else has seen before, to go to a place where no one has been before, express ourselves in a new and unique way, or discover what makes something “tick”. That drive or passion documented the movement of the sun, moon and stars and brought about the first step on the moon, sent probes into the farthest reaches of space, developed ways in which one could reach the depths of the ocean, see the inner workings of cells, make a permanent image on a slip of paper and create music with wood and wire.
Photographers are explorers of the visual kind. At the click of a setting or twist of a lens we are able to take off on an adventure. We walk into new and mysterious worlds with the camera as our sexton and compass in order to discover the nuances of both the magnificent and the minute. Through our lens leaves become road maps, mushroom gills become white waves of milk, landscapes change from mountains and coastlines to vistas of light and shadow, and portraits reveal the hidden depths in someone’s personality. There is nothing excluded from our desire to seek and discover something we’ve never seen before or to see something mundane in a new and unusual light thanks to the capabilities of our camera and the lens we put on the front of it.
What compels a photographer to explore the world on film or in the digital realm; to go places others have not or to look at the world from a different angle? I think it is the same sense of curiosity, adventure and discovery as that of any other explorer. What’s around the corner? Who is that? What’s underneath this? What’s in there? Has anyone seen this before? Each time we pick up the camera it is an invitation to join the great adventurers of the past, to ask the questions they asked, to travel in their creative footsteps and to reveal our discoveries in print or on line. We may not always think of our camera in terms of a telescope or microscope, but oftentimes they are. We may not see ourselves playing the role of a Thomas Edison or Pablo Picasso, but many times we are! Like them we walk into worlds with our curiosity and our camera and the discoveries we make are as endless as the explorers who’ve gone before.