The Intangible

My headphones were on and I was flipping back and forth between the food network and HDTV on the mini screen inches from my face. At this point I had been in airports and planes for 19+hrs in a matter of a few days. It had been a great and hectic few days.

Highlights included traveling to two states and cities I had never been too. Shooting two very different and equally amazing weddings. Laying in the sun staring at the wind blown leaves in the Boston Common. Seeing my first ever firefly (even if it was only for a fraction of a second). Sleeping in a big bed all to myself. Meeting lots of new, interesting and kind people….and shopping for soda crackers and lemon lime gatoraide at the Piggly Wiggly.

But despite all the greatness that those few days held,  there were some complications that were not very fun. Food poisoning for one. No thanks to that ever happening again. Not traveling with an assistant…which made the possibility of sickness that much worse. On top of the night long throw-up party, I was battling a week long cold and had a head full of unmentionables…and just when I thought the physical aliments couldn’t get worse, my body decided to remind me I was a girl. ARE YOU SERIOUS?! Can’t eat, cramps and a nose full of snot. Great. “Hi, I’m Rachel, your photographer”.  Luckily I survived and more than survived…magically was blessed by the adrenaline Gods and rocked out two weddings.

Thoughts of my whirlwind adventure played in my mind as I sat on yet another delayed flight. Just when I thought the weekend couldn’t get weirder, the aging gentleman sitting in front and across the aisle from me picked his nose and wiped the contents on the leather seat back in front him. Yep. In plain few for me the see for the next 5hrs.

Can I just go home now?!

It was Mother’s Day, I wasn’t with my mom and now had to watch this dude’s every move so I didn’t accidentally retouch any surface he had come close to.

Just then out of the corner of my eye I saw some commotion. A flight attendant ran down the aisle, a few others jumped up and I slipped off my headphones in time to hear as well as see two men rip the bathroom door off and catch a man falling to the floor. There was screaming and more running and and then flight attendants and passengers alike were yelling for doctors, any doctors.

My thoughts changed. My mood changed. What matter changed.

In an instant I was no longer worried about how annoying it was that I had to watch the airplane TV in real time. I was chocking back tears and praying that the man would survive.

This caused me to reflect.  Moments before we could have for the most part cared less about the people around us. Most of us were probably thinking about ourselves, our issues, our injustices……and in an instant we were unified in one sole purpose…survival. We all wanted to do anything and everything to save this human life. We were thinking about others, and because of that became closer to the strangers next to us. This isn’t the first time tragedy has caused me to notice the same shift of behaviors and actions…and every time it feels like a revelation.

Hours before this flight, I had just finished reading Corrie Ten Boom’s story, which is all about human spirit, togetherness and seeing outside of yourself. I can’t believe some people are so good?! So focused on others.  It filled me with the love, hope and courage of mankind. It reminded me that nothing matters more than service. It reminded me that nothing matters more than people. Nothing.

The reason I’m sharing all of this, is that it reminded me of one of the reasons I love photography so much,


Watching  how they’ll react, why they make the decisions they make and that ever so slight moment when they feel so much it pours out of their eyes. The challenge of trying to work above just the technical issues of lighting and framing and color and instead try and see something more. Something that runs deeper than the facade of closeness…but instead is closeness. I want to show human spirit and those moments were we stop thinking of ourselves and instead focus on the bigger picture. I want to photograph the bathroom door being torn off and the woman holding the mans head between her knees for landing. I want see stiff physical barriers be broken down and affection and togetherness shine.  I want to see what it takes to survive and who it takes to survive. I want to see the intangible and try and share it.

This is a challenge I give myself and any other documentary photographers out there. To me it’s what matters.

We had to make an emergency landing and tack on an extra 4hrs of travel time…and although I have no idea what happened to this man, I want to thank him. I want to thank him for reminding me that none of us are really strangers.


11 thoughts on “The Intangible

  1. This was so beautifully written! Thank you for the reminder of what life is really about, and what really should matter. I am glad you are home safe and wish I could have been there to assist you. You are such an amazing person, and an incredible photographer. Love you.


  2. oh my gosh, i heard everything up to the plane part from grant and already felt bad for you. how scary to see a man be hurt, but how wonderful to be able to reflect and bond with that spirit of wanting to help. although i hope you didn’t bond too much with snot man.

    glad you’re back home safe. get some rest.


  3. I’m so in love with your photos, but I almost love it more when you speak. To hear the motivation and the inspiration for your images is almost more gratifying than the images themselves.


  4. You have always been a wordsmith. I love that about you. This was really beautiful. Thanks for bringing good perspective into my life.


  5. It is so interesting to be alone, as your thoughts are able to run a bit more introspective than usual. I am impressed with your ability to be able to sift through the junk (boogers) and see the light in the shadows. That was really touching.
    Corrie Ten Boom’s book is so wonderful, I’m assuming you were inspired to read that after being in Holland?!


  6. oh rachel….
    how i wish we could’ve met up this past weekend.
    i aDORE you.
    you bring so much inspiration into my life.


  7. Oh my gosh Rachel! I didn’t know you were a writer TOO! I felt like I was there with you…a true indicator of superior writing. I was disgusted with you and afraid with you and moved by you. This is my favorite part: “why they make the decisions they make and that ever so slight moment when they feel so much it pours out of their eyes.” Well done, Rachel. Well done.


  8. Okay – so I just re-read what I wrote: “I was disgusted with you…” OH MY GOSH. SERIOUSLY?? And, kind of funny 🙂 I MEANT – when you were disgusted *I* was disgusted. Your disgust showed enough in your writing that I felt it. Geez. (I know you know that, but still…)


  9. Everyone,

    Thank you for reading the worlds longest post! I am impressed with your stamina. AND just for the record I wish I was a much better writer. I kind of make up my own grammar rules and hope my 3rd grade teacher doesn’t find out.

    I love you all so much. Thank you for allowing me this outlet to spew figuratively and recount stories of spewing literally.


    Julie, I bought the book before we left thinking it would be the perfect setting to read it but didn’t get to it until I was home. xo. I had such a great time. Thank you for all of your great recommendations.


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