“What’s wrong with this one?” my husband asked me in a way that made me instantly feel both frustrated and guilty. “Nothing,” I said in a forced peppy voice, “It’s a nice picture of a bird.” My husband tensed and sat down next to me. “Listen,” he said, “you asked me to take a picture of the bird, and I did. Now you are annoyed that I did exactly what you asked. I feel like I can’t win.” I put my head on his shoulder and looked out over the ocean. He had brought me all the way to the Galapagos as a gift and I was frustrated that I didn’t like many of the photos.
The truth was I had never taken an art or photography class and I was in over my head with wildlife photography. I knew exactly what I wanted to capture, but I lacked the skill to do so. I wished I could figure out how to work the camera and I feared I would leave the islands with no images that captured my memories. I looked at the photo my husband had taken of the pelican and I was amazed by the quality of the photo. But, I was also taken aback at how it captured exactly what was happening in the surf without capturing at all what I was watching in the surf. It was in that moment that I realized what the problem was…one photo had captured so much. Looking at my husband it was never clearer that perception really is everything.
“Look,” I said pointing at the bird, “you see a pelican being splashed by waves.” He nodded yes and looked at me with a questioning expression. “Well, that’s not what I see,” I explained, “I mean, I see it. But it’s not what I find interesting about him.” My husband nodded and said nothing as he turned his gaze back to the bird. “Watch what happens when the waves go out,” I said, “He will chase them. He will spread his wings and stomp his feet like a toddler splashing in a puddle. He will not turn around, because he is not afraid of us. He is at peace. He is happy. He is having fun.” I saw the corners of my husband’s mouth go up in a smirk as he saw the personality of the pelican come alive. “Your picture is honestly really good. But it does not capture what I see as memorable about this bird. You see a bird. I see THIS bird. I see a unique little soul.”
My husband took my hand and squeezed it. “What else do you see?” he asked. I shrugged, not sure how to answer. “Take that crab,” he said smiling, “I see the contrast of a bright red crab on black lava rock. What do you see?” I giggled at his inquest and was also a bit surprised that when he saw color, I saw something entirely different. “Watch him a sec and you’ll see.” My husband did as I requested, but the expression on his face made it clear that he did not see what I did. I sighed as I began my explanation into what was special about that crab. “When the tide comes up, all the other crabs scurry away. But not him. This one is different. He stays. He sits in the sea foam and likes to pop the bubbles. I like him. I think he is funny.” My husband said nothing as he got up and walked down the beach in attempt to take pictures from my perspective.
I had no way to know at the time that this conversation would change our relationship. But it did. It changed how we engaged in conversations when opinions differed and served as a poignant reminder that we could take very different things from the same experience. I gained a new respect for the man who worked very hard to learn how I saw the world around me, so that he could use his skill to capture it for me. As the days went on I found myself getting a kick out of the photos he took from his perspective as they showed his world to me. I was baffled by how we saw the exact same moment so differently and we continuously discussed what we found special and interesting in each scene.
Less than a week later when my husband proudly handed me the camera to look at a photo he’d taken, I cried. Without direction he had captured the moment between a mother Booby and her chick exactly as I experienced it. Through practice and effort he had learned my perspective of the world and was able to look at “just a bird” and see it through my eyes. Even though he would never be moved in the same way I was, he knew what I would find special in the way the mother fed her baby. His photo and those that followed it may have started as out as a quest to get better pictures, but it turned out to be one of the greatest and most loving things he’s ever done for me.
“Mom!” he said giggling, “look at this bird dancing.” My son sat on my lap looking at a long forgotten album that he found under the coffee table. I smiled a big and genuine smile at the memory. “You know, I thought he was stomping and splashing. But I think you may be right. It does look likes he’s dancing doesn’t it?” He nodded as he looked at the page. I marveled at my son and smiled as I took in the lesson this image was once again teaching me. One picture, three perspectives. It was just the reminder I needed to remember the value of our individuality and the importance of being understood. I turned the page and his eyes widened at the site of a colorful crab submerged in sea foam. “Tell me more. What else do you see?” I asked my son.