I couldn’t sleep. Dreaming some dreams that were neither good nor memorable, I kept tossing and turning. At 4 am, I gave up and got up to make myself a cup of tea and read a bit. I got through about 30 pages of Working by Robert Caro before deciding to go out. I wanted to make photos, even though the forecast was a bit meh. No rain. No fog. Nothing atmospheric. Clouds without character. Not even a good sunrise. I still decided to go. I texted my friend Tim, and off we went to Mount Davidson Park.
Lack of sleep and medication that still had not flushed out of my system made it difficult to walk up the gentle incline. Nevertheless, when we reached the top, I stood right next to that once-famous tree that is now shunned and pushed aside and watched the city, its blinking lights and traffic slowly streaming in over the Bay Bridge and other freeways. The ants were moving. And so was the wind. It was intense, and it made the morning cold — very cold.
The Leica SL2 has built-in image stabilization. And I had a sturdy tripod as well. They were not enough. The wind was strong, and even capturing a 3-second exposure was hard. After a few tries, I gave up. It was time to look elsewhere and wait for the sun to come up. I could see a red glow on the horizon, just under a phlegmatic cloud that had the texture of a round rock. The light reflected off the clouds and gave the bay a beautiful hue to gaze upon, but not enough to make for a great photo. It was an impressive attempt at sunrise, but it ended as fast as it started. The sky turned gray again, lifeless and devoid of personality.
The colors in the sky were much like the dance hall the morning after. It was time to go, but not before I remembered what Michael Kenna once told me: sometimes, the best photo is behind you. So, I turned around to look at the Sutro Tower and the Marin Headlands’ statuesque peaks. They were worthy of a handful of photos. After I got home, I saw the images — out of 20 in total, about 15 were shaken and stirred. Two were good.
They aren’t going to make it to my portfolio, but I don’t mind them. They will remind me that there will be more opportunities to make these two photos, maybe when the fog rolls in or when the clouds kiss the Twin Peaks. It taught me a few things about what focal length is best, what aperture to get the right amount of sharpness, and — most importantly — I didn’t spend my morning reading Twitter and getting annoyed by the games of outrage and attention.
The morning also reminded me of a vital life lesson: you fail only if you don’t learn. A lesson successfully learn cannot be called a failure.
December 17, 2019, San Francisco
My friend Steve Crandall emailed and shared the story of one of his advisors who had this to say:
If you’re failing more than ninety percent of the time, perhaps you’re picking problems that are too difficult. If you’re only failing eighty percent of the time, you need to improve your imagination.