A New Beginning

Do you ever wonder?

Solar eclipse - almost totality
Copyright 2024 Tracey Ormerod

Phenomena like the recent solar eclipse make me wonder a lot of things, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one.

1. The Event

That’s something we do these days isn’t it … when a phenomenon is considered worthy, media turns it into an event, creating a really long lead-up to build anticipation and expand their followers. In this case, people skipped work, schools closed, and cities along the line of totality ramped up their tourism in the hope of making a few extra million.

I’m not saying I wasn’t caught up in the build-up myself. In fact, I see myself doing it and I do it anyway and, again, I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

When I was a kid, this kind of thing didn’t happen quite the same way. We may or may not have ever heard about an eclipse, often learning about it after the fact with a photo on the front page of our newspaper … unless there was a bigger story to share. The following month, the National Geographic print magazine would land on our doorstep with a more in depth article inside, and gorgeous photos we could cut and paste onto bristol board for our next school science project.

So I wonder: how much more can media infiltrate our day-to-day lives with events of their making?

2. The Photos

Here’s another thing, and it’s a media thing too, especially when it’s social: getting that extraordinary photo and then sharing it everywhere.

Again, I’m there. In fact, I regretted not planning for it sooner. All that build-up and I didn’t think of ordering a solar filter for my camera from Amazon … because you can get pretty much everything that way these days, with one-day delivery no less. I also didn’t think of traveling somewhere for the ideal experience. I dropped the ball.

But, we regrouped. We were only 40 minutes from a town on the “totality line” and we made our way down there. It was a bit of a chase to get the photo. With a thick blanket of cloud, we gave up on totality and drove toward a pocket of blue sky. When cars were lining the side of the road we were on, I looked up through the moon roof and there it was. We stopped. We stared. I grabbed my camera. Everything grew dark. The feeling in the air was eerie and the farm animals behind us started filing into their barn. And then it was over.

When we got home, we learned that family and friends to the west of us all got to see the totality and I was, quite frankly, jealous. Another photo opportunity, missed. Seriously, what is that? Why do we even want to capture such things, capture being the appropriate word. If we catch it, does it somehow become our own? What motivates us to take that photograph? Susan Sontag had a lot to say about it:

“Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality…One can’t possess reality, one can possess images–one can’t possess the present but one can possess the past.”

“Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution.”

~ Susan Sontag, On Photography (1977)

I know it seems harsh, but there’s some truth to what she said almost 50 years ago. We are image junkies, now more than ever. But I will say this: while I participate, I also long to share the beauty I see, in the hope that others will see it too and love the nature I love. I hope what I do, in the long run, does the opposite of imprisonment for my photography subjects.

2. The Magic

And so, in that hope, I end with the magic, the very thing that human cultures through time have seen and felt with a total solar eclipse.

Just imagine what humans thought, long before science came along to help us understand what was happening when the moon cast its shadow and everything went dark. We tend to think the world is ending—for some reason, it’s where the human mind goes—and I wonder if they thought all was lost. Even now, knowing what we know, there are people who attach mystical, mythical, or apocalyptic interpretations to such events.

It’s no surprise. Just think about it … the moon is incredibly small by comparison and yet, at a precise moment, it’s positioned between the Earth and the Sun in such a way that it completely blocks the path of sunlight, almost like the two were meant to meet up and match up. In some mythologies, the Sun is masculine energy and the moon is feminine energy … just a random thought … interesting to think of it in that context.

Anyway, what are the odds of such a phenomenon? The moon has to be just the right size at the right distance in the right position in the elliptical movements of Earth and Moon together. Seriously, it’s the sort of magic we humans could never conceive of, no matter how technologically advanced we think we are. All we can do is witness, look up, all together, in a strange and momentary unity of experience.

It’s no wonder we wonder.


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