September 27th 2013
My first week in my first trip to San Francisco had mostly been spent working. For the record, ‘working’ included watching the Americas Cup races, lots of fine dining and a concert featuring The Black Keys and Maroon 5.
I decided to take a tour bus on the one day free from work commitments. I wanted to capture as much of Sydney’s ‘sister city’ I could in 24 hours. For some reason, I packed my old film camera, the Nikon F3 and a single roll of black and white film. One day in San Francisco and 36 frames to capture its beauty.
Close to 10 years had passed since I made the effort to take any photos. Working as a professional photographer extinguished the pilot light that fuelled this former passion. Even the most exciting of hobbies become tiresome once they become a vehicle to paying bills and feeding kids.
Polly the tour guide announced that The Grace Cathedral will be our second last stop on approach. I checked my camera and was surprised to see half the roll of film was consumed taking images of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had been in awe of this bridge since seeing it in the neighbours Encyclopaedia Britannica as a child. The structure certainly deserved half a roll of film.
The problem I faced pulling into The Grace Cathedral was that I had one, possibly two frames of film.
The inside of the church was typically Neo Gothic, much like St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. What I wasn’t prepared for was an installation of ribbons falling from the ceiling. This installation was in place to celebrate the churches 100th anniversary and it was just sublime. The sun setting through the stained glass was just starting to illuminate the miles of coloured ribbon. So much colour, so much light. I could have taken 100 different photos and still had inspiration for 100 more. But I only had one frame of black and white film. Panic set in.
It was at this moment I decided not to get back on the tour bus.
Instead, I scouted the church for my one photo. I eventually found my spot and lay down on the icy cold marble floor.
People looked down at me almost in disgust. How dare I lay on the floor with my head butted up against the altar?
Their stairs fell around me as I simply looked up and waited patiently as the sun continued to descend on its downward path.
I waited for what Henri Cartier-Bresson famously termed ‘the decisive moment’.
That moment came and I released the shutter.
That moment was more than just a photo.
Senses heightened as I absorbed my surroundings. Cold marble against my spine, scent of burning incense in the air, and sandstone arches bathed in the glow of the setting northern sun.
It was a sunset unfamiliar to me and unlike anything in the southern hemisphere. I noticed a patch of light on a plaque acknowledging the tomb that lay below. It was in that instant, with the dead below me, that it occurred to me. I am on my ‘last life’ and 41 years have already passed.
This moment was bordering on spiritual.
A new found desire to want to be me was awoken. In this moment, I had opened my ‘eyes long closed’.
As my back lay against the cold marble floor, I knew that for the first time in my life, I was anchored to ‘the now’ and the now had never been so beautiful.
I wanted more of this and there was absolutely no shame in wanting the life that is mine to live.
Do not be afraid to ‘embrace your light’. It is yours, and yours only.
Abe is a freelance photographer based in Sydney Australia with over 20 years experience photographing people and places. His work has been featured in numerous magazines and he has won National Awards from the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers [AIPP]. Abe finds his greatest fulfilment by capturing experiences and telling stories through his images. Abe can be found on Instagram, Twitter or his website.