Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Nakasendo, Through My Father's Eyes

--Susan, Every Other Sunday

My father died unexpectedly, ten years ago, on the day that would have been his 65th birthday. In the years since his death, I've learned to appreciate, even more deeply, our shared passion for photography--especially the way his photographs taught me to view the world.

Dad took the "expected" pictures: family vacations, kids growing up, panoramic views of spectacular sunsets and many, many portraits of his beloved and spoiled cats. But for every such photo he took, he took at least two close-up photographs of flowers, butterflies, bugs, or bees.

Dad didn't take this, but he would have, had he been there.

Dad taught me to look more closely at the world around me, and that doing so would often reveal unexpected details other people will often miss.

Looking over my photographs from my recent travels on the Nakasendo (a preserved section of the 17th century travel road through the Japan Alps), it's clear his spirit, and his lessons, still influence me behind the lens.  Today, I'd like to take you on a tour of the Nakasendo, through the lessons my father taught me about photography--none of which were consciously in my mind as I shot the images. I realized only after the fact that even though Dad never visited the Nakasendo, each of these photos is one he would have taken, had he been there.

The kanji on this old waypoint marker read "Nakasendo"

Dad loved sardonic humor (there's no question where I get it) and liked to photograph things that made him smile.

Schroedinger's trail is, and is not, the way forward.

Some of the greatest gifts nature has to offer are the ones you have to be still and patient enough to see.

Moth sunning itself on a leaf near the side of the trail.

You'll miss some of the most interesting things in life if you're too busy or too preoccupied to stop and look, with the eyes to see the things that flitter, creep, and crawl.

A dragonfly resting on the cobblestones of the ancient travel road.

Or if you forget to raise your eyes and see the larger view. And when you see it . . . take the time to frame the image to direct the eye and convey the moment as strongly as possible.

The view from a rest point on the Nakasendo.
Dad often photographed his subjects not just from the expected angles (straight on, center frame) but from unusual perspectives. Sometimes those shots were terrible, but sometimes they were far more interesting than the "usual suspects."

I shot this shrine entrance from the front, and from this side approach. This shot is infinitely better.

While walking along the river to visit Otake-Metake falls, I stopped to listen to the river and watch it dance among the stones. Had I not stopped to appreciate the river, rather than just the falls, I would have missed the two stone cairns someone (or, more likely, a series of someones) created in the middle of the stream. I climbed down the bank, said a prayer, and added a stone to the top of the left-hand cairn before stepping into the stream itself to snap a photograph.

Dad's lesson here? Balancing the weight of the stones in the foreground with the angle and weight of the water at the back.

These are the things you miss if you stay on the path and hurry to the destination.
When I returned to Magome after the hike, I walked through the street seeking subjects I hadn't photographed on previous visits. I heard angry chattering from the nearby eaves, and discovered a nest of nearly-fledged tsubame (swallows) waiting for dinner.

Yet another gift I would have missed if I hadn't been "looking" with more than just my eyes.

More than anything else, Dad taught me that a camera is more than just a tool for recording life as it passes by around you. It does that, too, of course, but the powerful shots--the ones that make you think, or feel, or experience something you didn't expect--are a fusion of the lens, the moment, and the mind and heart of the person who snapped the frame.

Thank you, Dad. (And thank you for indulging me in this bit of ancestral photographic navel-gazing along Japan's historic travel road.)


  1. Thanks, Susan. It's evident that you learned his lessons well. The things we learned are often our most cherished memories of our parents.

  2. Okay, you're having WAY too good of a time without us. Your punishment: you must continue to have a good time, and then report back to us. Failure is NOT an option.

  3. The point you're missing, Susan, is that your dad is with you...every step of the way...and beaming with pride at his extraordinary daughter.

  4. The three gentlemen above have said it for me. It is the mind the mind and heart of the photographer that I see here. The inspiration of your father lives on and--I imagine--is mirrored and magnified in you, my dear friend. Two months from right now, I hope to be there with you. LUCKY ME!!!

  5. What a lovely blog!