John Steinbeck is always a great read, always; and one of the most delightful of those reads, Travels With Charley, kept running through my head this past week. He had set out with his traveling companion Charley in search of America (the book's subtitle) near the end of his career as a writer. Other than my own reflections as I travel and make photographs, I draw no parallels nor critiques of one of my favorite writers. I only write to clean up the noise in my head, but like the man himself, I have come to embrace the art of travel as a means of self-reflection upon a long and adventurous career.
And so this past week at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival could well be titled Travels With Nancy. Not only wife and travel companion, she is the instigator, motivator, and organizer of many a fine trip. Left to my own devices, I'd prefer to grab my brother Jim and light out for the territories, with nary a thought beyond where the next gas station -- or liquor store -- may be. But a trip to this festival required a level of planning and precision I'm generally not capable of, and which also inspired in me a more focused and disciplined approach to my photography. I traveled camera-light: just my trusty little Fuji and a couple of lenses; a minimalist approach to a maximal event. It's been photographed a zillion times before, so I could hardly pretend to speak in a wholly original voice. But that was hardly the point.
I should point out that Charley was a french poodle, and Nancy is not. But a travel companion is always and forever more than just someone occupying the seat next to you. A true travel companion is the chorus of Agememnon, a fresh thought, a light of a different color. And in my case anyway, it's how I got there in the first place. In my experience, an excellent travel companion has always kept me from over-thinking the possibilities and probabilities, making me stay in the moment. Photography requires this, but photographers stray.
We should all get the opportunity, if not the necessity, to reflect on what we've produced as our careers wind down. Doing it right is, I submit, an intensely solitary effort, but whatever our calling has been -- artists, photographers, healers, teachers -- it is inescapable. We've come down a long road, and in this case, it lead me to a hot-air balloon festival in my beloved Albuquerque; a place where I spent part of my childhood, and have always felt a warm attachment to.
Like Steinbeck, I want to see more of America, and even the world, and use the experience of traveling to see deeper inside myself. His voice was a pen and paper, mine happens to be a camera, but we should, all of us, find Charley and go somewhere.
Even if Charley happens to be a french poodle.