just looking

I am inspired by the works of the fine artist, Sam Abell, whose biography includes thirty-three years as a photographer for National Geographic. In reading Sam's biography, I am struck by the simplicity of his words — his inspiration, where he studied and worked, his books and exhibitions, his current endeavors. A few sentences, direct and concise. No long list of awards and recognitions, which he no doubt received in his illustrious career, but rather honest stories of how he came to make make pictures by way of his father's teaching to compose and wait.

Working my way through Sam's projects, I see qualities I respect — humility, perseverance, a sense of humor, and honesty. I stopped to view a short video, How Genius Works, for The Atlantic in which Sam recounts his year-long quest to find the perfect image of bison skulls for an essay on American painter Charles M. Russell. 

I love all of Sam's work. I've flipped through the pages of my copy of Seeing Gardens till they've become crinkled and worn. But it is Sam's collection of photographs, Just Looking, that I find most compelling and sincere.

Little by little, I come to realize Sam's wisdom in seeing the making of a photograph as a process. If you'd like to learn more about Sam Abell, there's a great interview with him over on Story Matters.

When we sat down to enjoy a home-cooked lunch at the Hanover Cafe, I knew I wanted to make this picture. I was drawn to the elements of the diner that make every diner feel like home.

Small touches like window blinds or country curtains, plaques with quaint sayings on walls or stained glass light catchers in splattered windows, layers of paint over layers of paint trying to make old seem new, plants and decorations collected by circumstance rather than planned theme or decor. These are the furnishings of belonging and longing.

Here is the rough draft. I was disappointed when I looked at the screen.

And here is the version, the more successful photograph, when the old man sat down to wait for his order, where the elements of still life and life and light came together.


There is still so much for me to learn, and I never grow tired of trying something new.

Waiting for the next lesson.