Appreciating the present moment with help from the color yellow.
“Contrarian.” We are part of a community and yet we are individuals. Thinking for ourselves and taking action puts us in conscious choice of our direction in life. Appreciating the present moment makes what seems ordinary very special. That’s the story of this yellow abstract.
“The most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself.–Peter Thiel
How to avoid taking the ordinary for granted.
The result becomes the path to appreciating the present moment.
I’d heard that little voice in my head and asked Bill, “hey, can we stop here?” Then I plopped down at this guardrail.
We were exploring backroads in Mono County in the Sierras to find stands of aspen, hoping they might turn yellow at this elevation.
Autumn in the west bursts into yield-sign yellow if the conditions are right. At this moment, the trees weren’t turning much. However, I found a yellow I was attracted to and pointed my camera at it.
I like to practice without my visual autopilot enabled. I look around taking notice of the ordinary; thinking for myself about what might be fascinating to explore.
What is different? Can I find something to show you, something you’ll find unique too? I don’t want to forget that in the ordinary, there is extraordinary. Life is filled primarily with everyday moments. And we go through the motions without much thought to them.
Most of life adds up to ordinary moments.
In our culture, “ordinary” takes on the meaning of “boring”: ordinary moments, simple routines, and dull times. And just because it is familiar, we take much of that for granted and run on autopilot. Then we wonder what’s my purpose for being here. The simple truth is we should be appreciating the present moment.
But autopilot numbs us.
And being on autopilot through our days is not living life to the fullest. Our senses are dulled. We don’t enjoy the little moments.
The opposite, creating or craving drama, isn’t a good answer either. Drama means we tap out on adrenaline. That’s just stressful.
The wonder and awe in this very moment.
That’s when you are appreciating the present moment.
What if we took these ordinary moments and saw them differently? With wonder. With awe. What might we see? Feel?
Sure, planning and being in the right place at the right time with a fantastic scene is what photographers live for. But is all lost if a storm passes through at the wrong moment, causing the leaves to fall before we get the stunning photos we hoped for?
Or what if the drought causes the leaves to skip turning yellow and curl up into a lackluster brown?
The gift of right now.
Are we waiting until the light is right, the weather lines up, and the conditions are stellar to enjoy this moment? Do we require perfection before appreciating that being alive is a gift?
This very minute is precious. And just like that, it is gone.
The guardrail held the key. Just allowing the color yellow to draw me in slowed my thoughts. I began to appreciate where I was.
Appreciating this moment.
My backdrop was a gurgling stream flowing through a grove of aspens. Have you noticed that aspen trees are constantly in motion? They are not able to come to complete stillness. Like young children, they try hard, but sitting still isn’t in their nature.
I pretended that the trees were giving a standing ovation to the day as the breeze lifted their leaves. Their subtle clap celebrates that here we were, enjoying a fall afternoon.
Initially, I thought I saw an abstract mountain scene where the reflective material had worn away from the guardrail. I listened to that intuitive voice whispering encouragement to explore this little scene.
Here’s the scene I spied from the car that made me want to explore the guardrail. From afar, it looked like a mountain scene. It was what I call a “warm-up” shot. Not everything becomes an amazing photo. Far from it. There are lots of trials and errors. This photo just sits in the files and reminds me of why I wanted to stop. And it spurred me onto a photo I just love, “Contrarian.”
Illuminating the value of the ordinary.
But as I worked with my camera, I sat in wonder as patterns and intricate details of the reflective materials made art in front of me.
I’d found a yellow I wanted to share with you.
For the record, I was off the road, away from danger. And Bill watched the little traffic there was and alerted me just in case. So I wanted to clear that up because a mom or two in the audience might be concerned. Love you! P.S. Don’t try this on a busy highway. Be safe.
We think something is simple, but have we given it any thought?
You might think this non-moving subject would be a simple snap, and I’d be on my way. But, of course not. The surface is curved. That introduces different depths that shooting close-up complicates.
Then there is the lighting issue. Clouds drifted across the sky, teasing me by shadowing my subject one moment and then letting the sun break through to highlight it the next. And remember, that yellow honeycomb picks up light, so my scene kept shifting from dark to just right and then blindingly bright.
As I worked with this, I wondered why one little honeycomb had lost its yellow. Did all of the cells have those little silver bead-like shapes underneath? Do the people involved in producing guardrails ever look closely at the swirls? Who designed the compartments like a honeycomb?
You realize how amazing life is when you start peeling back the details. We take all kinds of jobs, discoveries, and efforts by our fellow humans for granted. And I’d venture to say they probably take our work for granted too.
“The Hive.” The extensive symmetry of the honeycomb design was not what I expected to be shooting. But a lot of fun.
Appreciation for what we usually don’t notice.
A minimal yellow photo has its moment to shine.
I’ve followed CUPOTY (Close-Up Photographer of the Year) for several years. And once a year, they announce a photography challenge. In November 2022, they chose “Minimal.”
Immediately, I thought of “Contrarian.”
Then I fretted about entering this photo. On one level, it is minimal. But it also is rich in detail. That’s the funny thing about almost any truth. A little bit of the opposite helps bring it into balance.
After my mental wrestling match, the simple yellow photo convinced me. I submitted it. I wanted to share this image with you a long time ago. But I didn’t. I wanted to see “if” my gut instinct was correct or not.
And guess what? They just announced a shortlist of images. And “Contrarian” was included in that list.
I’m honored and humbled. The field of photographers that enter these competitions is impressive. Do check the rest of them out. I promise there’ll be many “wows.”
“Contrarian.” What says I’m part of the group but I think for myself more than this simple hexagon?
How to feel energized from the little moments.
Next time you feel like life is blasé, notice something you’ve never considered.
It’s a good exercise that’ll inspire you.
Do you love reading about color symbolism?
Take a look at how fun “barn red” can be!
I appreciate this moment...
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Ann Newman is an abstract photographer, writer, and creator of Annstracts. As a former, professionally-trained salesperson, Ann understands that people want to solve problems or accelerate growth for a better future. Exploring the symbolism in abstract photos, she lets them tell stories that offer hope. You might find Ann near her home in Phoenix, bent down looking at the tiniest details of a bug, patting any nearby dog, or looking up at a tree to figure out what bird she just heard.
Wow! This was an awesome article and great reminders to us all! Keep up the inspiration! You’re making a difference!
Karen, that is really meaningful. Thanks for the encouragement and for reading it!
Always appreciate your art and the way you look at life.
Thanks so much, Carolyn! I appreciate that you look at art. And thanks for commenting.