The importance of time out and reflection

Brett Stanley reflects on how viewing the world with new eyes can be revitalizing and invigorating

It was hot — stiflingly so. The humidity was through the roof, and I could feel my will to live slipping away. All I wanted to do was hide in a cold dark room somewhere, but I was on a ferry in New York’s Upper Harbour looking up at the Statue of Liberty, and wishing I had the motivation to get my DSLR out of my bag. 

Brett Stanley

After a short winter in New Zealand, I had forgotten how badly I function in the humid heat, and a trip to New York with my girl and her mother landed us smack-bang in the middle of a heatwave. It also didn’t help that our accommodation for the week was devoid of any air conditioning and was as hot as an oven. Praise be for ice water.

I love travel photography; it was where I really found my passion for the captured image, and, historically, I usually travelled with way too much gear — always looking for new ways to shoot a popular scene. I invariably felt like I needed to photograph as much as I could on trips in case I never came back again or I saw a once-in-a-lifetime shot. It was kind of obsessive, and my travelling companions would always comment on how I should just see the scene as it is, not through the lens — but I never paid them much mind, as I loved the process of it all.
But this trip was different. This trip, I just didn’t want to deal with a camera — except the one on my phone, of course. How else do I keep Facebook interesting?

Brett Stanley

Our journey gave us a week in New York City, before we drove cross-country for 17 days to Salt Lake City, Utah, and then flew home to Los Angeles, about 5000km all told. Our route took us through some of the most amazing parts of middle America, from New York City to Niagara Falls, to Detroit and Chicago, Mount Rushmore, Badlands, and, finally, Yellowstone National Park. It was beautiful, and I photographed almost none of it. It was wonderfully liberating.

Brett Stanley

As a full-time photographer, I’d never realized how bound to the camera I was — after a few months away, primarily working, I was a bit camera burned. It may have been the humidity, but the idea of pulling my gear out of my bag kind of made me sick. I decided I was going to have a photo-free holiday.

It totally changed how I experienced the world. I saw and felt (and smelled) the sights with fresh eyes — with my own eyes, not via the glass of the camera. I stopped looking for angles and waiting for the light. I just breathed in the surroundings and imagined how it was when people first discovered Niagara Falls, how they felt when they saw the bears and bison in the meadows, and what it must have looked like before they planted miles and miles of soy and corn. It was also a faster trip, as I didn’t need to stop at every sun-drenched paddock.

Brett Stanley

I still documented our journey, it’s hard not to these days, but it was more about taking the ubiquitous selfie with my family and filming the ridiculous, stir-crazy moments in the car with my phone than creating a landscape masterpiece. Even when we arrived at Devils Tower, a place I’d seen in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind and had wanted to visit ever since, I was still not moved to get my camera. I was too awestruck by the sight of it framed against the sky and the wild bison grazing below. 

Do I regret not taking out the camera? A little, but I now know I’ll have to go back there again and try to capture those places properly. In the meantime, I have some selfies to upload.