I remember my father’s hands, mostly. Huge and and always warm; they dwarfed mine even though I was a tall, lanky eight-year-old. And a voice that sounded deep and resonant even compared to mine now, much less my excited boyish squeaking as we sat in a parking lot and watched the sunset.
“This is a 774!” I cried!
“I’m not sure sure about that, Ryan,” he said, pointing upward. “Look at the way the sun is catching those clouds. I think this is at least an 824.”
We had decided that there were exactly 1,000 sunsets, and that God and his angels put them on display for us, numerically ranking them according to how majestic they were, and it was our duty to catalog them. We did a pretty good job. I was fastidious about not ranking one sunset higher than another one I’d seen that had been even better. Beauty, I learned early, is contextualized.
It was cocktail hour at Lauren and John’s Battery Gardens wedding when the skies set themselves on fire. It started as a golden streak mixed with the rich blue, and grew more and more colorful and complicated by the minute. There seemed to be eight different types of cloud, all catching the sun in different ways.
I stopped, just to watch. Unless you’ve seen me in action at a wedding, you might not understand how shocking that is. I don’t stop at weddings. I’ve received devastating personal news at weddings and not stopped working, bobbing and weaving and looking for new angles. Later that night, my assistant literally had to chase me around the entire reception floor to give me back some memory cards he was backing up, because I was circling so fast.
I know that sunsets are pretty much the lowest-regarded form of art. I didn’t have anything to do with how nice it looked, after all — I just had a decent sense of composition and know how to get the right exposure. But more importantly it’s because my normal job is to take photos that look much better than reality does, but there was nothing I could do here to even match what I was seeing. After all, who knows how you’re viewing this? You could be cramming this slice of a sunset into your mobile phone screen. We had it spread out across the sky for us, morphing into different beauties over half an hour.
But if I can’t even allude to the best sunset I’ve ever seen, if I can’t share some pretty pictures because they’re disdained as fine art, then I have forgotten the joy of taking pictures in the first place. Or worse, I have forgotten the joy of seeing.
But my father made sure I never would.