Blog post #4: Learning to (White) Balance!


Note: this post should have been released in Feb. of 2019. But, grant writing took over and I just lost track of any self-indulgent projects like this blog! For posterity and my own sanity, I did not want this post to go to waste. So…here it is! And with it, hopefully, the resurrection of reflections via this blog. vid cert

So … it’s been a while since my last post. But … LIFE! PhD life at that. Not that long ago, I was planning my foray into the field, and now … it’s time to write up my findings. Seriously! Where did the time go?! Well, they say time flies when you’re having fun. While I would not always refer to this arduous journey as ‘fun,’ I have to admit, I wish I could stop time and do it all over again. There are just SO many moments I wish could go back, revisit, and really document them as I experienced it – both on this blog and for my work. And given my recent completion of my Videography certificate, I now have more skill behind the camera and thus better adept at the basics, which seems like a year too late.

But honestly, even if I could go back, I’ve just had to accept that it’s just impossible to capture ALL of the nuances of culture, interactions, performances, and art. The camera, while a powerful tool that has allowed humanity to freeze certain moments in time and salvage them for perpetuity, is limited. So, as stated in the previous post, I’ve been practicing putting the camera down. That said … in a surprising twist of fate, the camera and I have bonded in a way that both thrills me and scares me a bit. Yes … both / and. While my new photog journey had me learning to focus and white balance, my recent travels abroad had me questioning my inability to balance, metaphorically speaking, which is a bad habit of mine. Often, I tend to look at things in extremes (i.e., black and white, good or bad, either / or).

As a reward for finishing a tough year of fieldwork, and for a slight reprieve before the next phase of analysis and actual writing, I rewarded myself with a trip to one of my bucket list places: IRELAND! (Well, I also went to London. But this was my 2nd visit.) I literally got to see firsthand the rolling green hills, hear traditional Irish folk music, and drink genuine Irish Whiskey!!! And while there, I tried to practice the mindfulness and awareness I had recently discovered  – using the eyes God gave me as the lenses for focusing on and capturing each moment. So, for this trip, I did not take NEARLY as many pictures as a I would have. *Sigh* (This decision would prompt a much-needed learning opportunity.)

My co-traveler / friend, however, took ALL the pictures. Sometimes 15 of the SAME freakin’ statue!!! With tons of time wasted getting the perfect shot, snapping stills from every possible angle, I was often annoyed by my companion’s overly ambitious attempt to record every waking moment. I kept telling her to put the camera down, prompting her to following my lead — as my “enlightened” self would try to make a memory in my mind. How would I do this? Well, I’ve actually learned this trick many years ago: 1)  be still and take in the moment, 2) identify things that would appeal to as many of the 5 senses as possible, and 3) zero in on the most prominent sensory detail(s) and name it (e.g., I hear a traditional Irish flute, I am tasting the tangy sweet of the Guinness pie, I see the busyness of the pub). And later, the next time you see, hear, or taste anything of resemblance to those details,  you trigger that memory, with the ability to recall and relive that moment.  This trick was my go-to in Ireland, with a few clicks of photos and recordings here and there. And, I thought to myself, “I’m so evolved.” Ha! Was I in for an awakening!

Upon returning home, I was quickly snapped back into reality. Being back in the hustle and bustle of the states, without my nightly visits to the pubs or coffee shops, and in a mindset driven by the RUSH, RUSH, RUSH that is American culture, I quickly needed a hit of that same high – the high of Dublin streets and of the natural beauty I saw in places like Glendalough, Wicklow Mountains. (For movie buffs, this is where they show the wedding in Braveheart and the “meet-cute” in P.S. I love You!) I swear … upon standing on Irish soil and rock at Giant’s Causeway, I felt completely at peace. It’s such a simple (cliche) expression, but I was truly amazed by the spiritual experience of being in absolute splendor. I remember at that time, I just knew THAT moment would definitely come home with me.

In some ways, it did. All is not completely lost, of course. But, how often do I just stumble upon an Irish flute or even a Guinness Pie??? So, many of the observable details and my so-called sensory triggers were so particular to the area that I would need more to conjure up the memories and feelings from my travels. So, I reached for my phone and Ipod (yes, I still have one!). And I skimmed through the stills I thought were worth capturing – only to entertain huge disappointment.  Not only was a missing a LARGE chunk of my trip, but the quality of images just were frustrating to me! I’ve gotten used to the sharp focus that comes with using better quality equipment and more advanced settings than what my little Samsung 6 could offer. But, quality photos / vids have become like grandma’s cooking – is anything less worth tasting? OMG! Have I become … hooked? Am I now one of those people who will travel to places with a DSLR, 5 lenses, tripods, memory cards, and a gimble for my phone as well???

It’s funny, because I so used to judge those people.  I find myself now unhappily scrolling through my Ireland photo gallery. And even worse, I find myself  … (okay, you can maybe judge me a little) … I find myself tapping on my friend’s shoulder for some of her photos. ☹  Yep, because my friend had her camera! Of course it was not professional grade, but it was a lot better than my 5 year old phone that is ready to call it quits!

So, what is the lesson? Don’t let pendulum swing in the exact opposite direction. Yes, I should take time to enjoy the moments in front of me. Practicing presence is not a bad thing, per se. But, ANYTHING in excess is a problem. I have learned I can embrace my newfound connection with the art of photography and cinematography. There is a place for seeing natural beauty and wanting that visual for a lifetime. I think of the canvases I missed out on because of my unwillingness to adopt a new principle in moderation and with attention to context. For instance, if you’re going to a bucket list place, there is room for a bit of documentation. After all, I am an ethnographer. My work is just that – the practice of observing, capturing, and chronicling moments for preservation and celebration.

“So, let’s try balance next time Tiffany,” is what I say to myself with a bit grace and forgiveness. Besides, who ever got ANYTHING right their first time, eh?


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