“Beauty is truth – truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.” Almost daily, on my morning walks I pass by this (JOHN KEATS) quote, etched into the exterior facade of the Norton Museum of Art. It never ages and has become, for me, a daily affirmation. For, is that not precisely what we do as artists? Show up fully to the scenes and subjects before us? Uncover their truths, embody them somehow, and then go off and express them for the wonder of others?
I'm not someone who tends to equate or define the truth as a mere set of facts. For me, the truth lies well below a surface - simmering as some utterance of a soul. A lifetime of creative practice (and of studying the works of other photographers) has shown me that we rarely arrive at such utterances by calculating and calling all the shots in our picture making. We get there by loosening our grip, by allowing for the limits of our certainties, and by getting out of the picture.
"No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well as the truth," wrote HENRY DAVID THOREAU in the pages of Walden. I could not agree more, and to mine it takes work. When I cue this approach of "stepping out of the picture," I'm not suggesting an absence of effort in our creative expression of the people and the moments we witness. But, what happens when we allow the exertion of the technical orchestration of a capture to subside in order to pour that agency into clearing the mind and heightening the senses so that we hear and see our subjects and convey truths from some higher frequency? It's really that simple of a shift. And, we well know the answer. This is a reminder...
DAMON HIGGINS is an award winning photographer for the Palm Beach Post/Palm Beach Daily News. Throughout his 20 year career with the publication, his images have been widely revered by readers for their powerful ability to stop time. It's September in southern Florida. The shoreline pulses a softer soundtrack. As he can attest, in these 90 degree plus days, the treasure trove of February content is not bubbling over. Yet still, an endless humanity endures. The above (words and image) were originally published in the Sunday, August 29th edition of the Palm Beach Daily News. As evident, the content is about one (and only one) thing. It conveys a quiet utterance of the soul - seizes you up as it does. Is Yakov (the subject) in prayer? His companion testimony further reveals, padding the capture's poetry. The moment and the composition are extraordinary precisely because the photographer did NOT plot and intrude in its unfolding. He simply noticed what he noticed, listened in fully, followed some inner stirring, and caught it. There's a collective win in his doing so.
"When I arrived at The Post, the paper was booming. There was this HUGE budget and every photographer had their own assignments, as directed by our editors. Now, that's not the case. Because of our drastically reduced staffing, the photographers have to go out each day and find their own assignments. We have to force ourselves to go out and look for creative stuff. So, you train yourself - train yourself to see what's different each day. You look for the light, and what's happening in it."
"I drive slowly by this stretch of beach multiple times each day, just quietly observing the nature of things to see what shows up. Last week, I saw Yakov standing in the water just staring out to the sky. I watched him for like 20 minutes, his back to the sand. He just looked to me like he was doing something. What it was I didn't know. After asking his permission, I took some shots. While making my pictures, I actually asked him to please not turn towards my lens. I didn't want him to be aware of me. When I got the shot, I knew it was special. Then, Yakov shared his story - why he was there. He wanted everyone to know what the surf does for his knees."
"What have I learned through the thousands of pictures I've captured in my work? In the end... it's not about the photo. It's about the people in them - who they are, their story. For me, just meeting people is the beautiful part."
“Beauty is truth – truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.”
The motivations for the endless hours we spend behind these lenses are unique for each of us. The common thread? To tell one story, or another. The evidence shows that we BEST honor the histories we document when we remember to lower our own volumes and simply step ourselves OUT of the picture. Truth is beauty? Often, that is all we need to know.
Above image by Damon Higgins, as published in the August 29, 2021 edition of the Palm Beach Daily News.
Damon Higgins joined the photography staff at The Palm Beach Post in 2001 where, in addition to being named Cox Newspapers’ Rookie of the Year, he has also been named Cox Newspapers’ Photographer of the Year.His work has appeared in a wide range of well known and respected publications, including Success Magazine, ESPN the Magazine, and Palm Beach Life Magazine. To learn more about Damon and his work, please visit DAMONHIGGINS.COM.