The Ones That Got Away

Blog Author Richard Newman

Fishermen and photographers always love to talk about the-ones-that-got-away. “I nearly had that 20-pound bass in the boat until a bigger fish jumped right next to the line and it broke.” Or, “I was driving through the desert in the very early morning before sunrise, and I could see the most amazing rock formations in front of me. I could tell that the sun was about three minutes from the horizon as I sped faster and faster to get the right position. As I skidded into the parking lot, the sun came up flooding the entire desert floor with light, and the moment was gone.”

Then, there are the ones that didn’t get away. Both photographers and fisherman tend to hang the big ones that they catch on their walls. The display is both for the casual viewer or the visitor who shares the prowess of the hunter, be it images or wildlife. Is catching the "big one" a matter of practice, superior equipment and extensive knowledge of the subject, or is it just plain luck? Here’s Wikipedia’s explanation of one of the world’s true mysteries: The naturalistic interpretation is that positive and negative events happen all the time in human lives, both due to random and non-random natural and artificial processes, and that even improbable events can happen by random chance.

I don’t know. Here’s what I do know: chance and luck favor the prepared. Ansel got his moment in New Mexico because he knew the luminance of the moon and could figure that into his exposure even through the excitement that was generated by the scene in front of him. He steadied himself and hoped for the best. I’ve held that negative in my hands and it’s really one of the worst exposures I’ve ever seen. But, the exposure for the moon was right and he figured out everything else. I’m not that familiar with any really great fish stories other than Moby-Dick, and that one ended badly.

So, here’s the-one-that-got-away from me. I was in Australia doing a demo/speaker tour in seven cities over nine days. I went through the Sydney airport eight times during that time. I’d never been there before and I loved walking around in new places just looking, carrying my Leica M-6 and shooting black-and-white film. I had been to England and New York in the weeks before, and I was wearing the same shoes. I was staring at my feet thinking about this when I almost knocked down an aboriginal man with a life-sized carved ironwood monkey on his back. Really! He had appeared out of nowhere and now this incredible image was right in front of me. I didn’t know the luminance or exposure factor for an ironwood monkey. I was under an awning, and the sun was bright. I just threw the camera to my face and hoped for the best. It’s a pretty bad negative. There is little to no detail at all in the monkey, and you can barely see its face. By the time I set my camera for proper exposure, it was over, and the guy and his monkey had disappeared into the crowd. I wasn’t ready or prepared, but you can be sure I was for the rest of that entire trip.

This image is still very close to my heart in many ways, and it’s displayed on my wall, along with my biggest catches, so I will never forget it. Did this image get away, or is it a part of my everyday visuals? Don’t know.

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