Match Point

The VHS tape was digitizing for about an hour, when I took a break from some other task (attempting to write, I’m sure) to watch the next play of the final game of the 1995 regular SCCAL season between Aptos and Harbor, televised on the local cable station as the Game of the Week. After a minute of color commentary, I’d determined it was the third game and all of a sudden match point, which didn’t make any sense to me. Why would we even have this tape if it was a loss? I couldn’t remember the outcome of the game, and I just couldn’t believe that Aptos, and my father, would lose the game. How did this game get to match point so quickly, and they were down so hard, 9 to 14?

Because Harbor had always been the rival, the brick wall of defense upon which my father’s career as head coach always ran into. I was riveted, all of a sudden, and nervous for this last point to be scored twenty-three years ago.


Nine years later, with that same borrowed camera that I would take to the desert the following spring, I stood in the Harbor gym at the visitor’s match point, just behind the three-meter line with a 50-millimeter fast prime lens.


I’d shoot about another, I don’t know, at least fifty thousand photos of volleyball in the next three or four years, but oddly enough, never again with that lens and from that angle.

Basin and Range


At night, during the intermissions in the camper, imagined mountains and wildflowers filled my closed-eyed visions like some form of a hallucination. An echo from the viewfinder. Amalgamations of rock and petal and color swept across, from somewhere else. Like dreams of mountains, impressions. The Platonic idea, the very symbol of mountains and desert wildflower themselves, beating some low drum in my mind.

Driving back through Panamint & Owens Valley on Palm Sunday, alone again after three days, I stopped without reservation to photograph all of the geology I’d admired from the driver’s seat on the way in. These became the images of how I had to imagine the basin and range: baren, dry, magnificent. Exquisitely lit by the overcast stratosphere, no need for color. This reversing, like an explanation before its cause. This was the entry (and subsequent exit) through the valley, but here I was leaving it with every perspective reversed, everything I had driven through and left behind in search of hundred year wildflowers now fields of air and rock, an intraterrestrial landscape where the horizon is limited only in the scope of one’s footstep, open as when the ocean meets the shore.

Critiquing my photos a week later, “I haven’t seen a sky like that once,” my mentor Richard said, “not in the dozen times I’ve been there. I’m jealous.”

His jealousy of that sky, imparting a minor slight against something of what I was hoping was talent, only slightly diminished the impression that I had felt walking up along the sand dunes — and been hinting at for some long period before — that by the end of that trip, I had become a photographer.


Sensitivity to Light


We left the Big Sur campground before dark, deciding against one cold night of tent sleep in favor of two more hours of driving to get to the sofa at Martin’s girlfriend’s place in San Luis. Regardless of where we slept, the next morning we wake before dawn and drive to Death Valley.

In the car ahead of me, he pulled off to the side of the road at a bluff-mounted turnout, implying with a turn signal that I ought to get out with the borrowed camera for the last half of magic hour.

There wasn’t much of a hurry to get anywhere just then, and after a few minutes of chatting as I set up the three-thousand dollar camera on my thirty-dollar tripod, Martin drove on ahead. I was alone. And grateful that he recognized that light, perhaps even more strongly than I would have been willing to insist upon if our positions on the road had been reversed, and my turn signals had been in charge.

First, I adjusted the sensitivity to light all the way down. When you turned the dial below 100 the green back-lit display just said “L”. Until that point in my very short photography career, I’d always been shooting as high as possible, in search of the fastest shutter speeds available to eliminate motion and the vibrations of my hand as I held the camera. This was a capital L Luxury. I closed down the aperture about as far as I could, too, probably to f/22; whatever extreme there I could find that would keep us under the maximum shutter length: thirty seconds.

The ocean was just there, forever in gold, until it was forever in the twilight of blue.

It was an odd thing, to make all of those decisions, lock them in, decide on a framing, and then after depressing the shutter walk away and continue to look at the scene. As if I wasn’t doing anything at all. The camera was doing all of the work, and I was free in those twenty-nine seconds to wait for the scene to emerge in the smaller view screen, taking in all of that light for so long, the two of us.

It was the trip after which I slowly abandoned writing in favor of photography. As if I had to choose.





Other Names

With height, survived the dawns in which the deer broke their fasting.

Then stood between the light and the trees.

Under a shadow of heartbeats.

With chemistry, as if illuminated by dyes and magnetism before the neurosurgery.

Bloom, temporary as everything else, all at once.

Like an Annie Dillard eclipse.

Like a marriage, but perhaps more like a kiss.