photo of the month
from randy kato


This picture - as are many of my favorites - was an accident.

A photograph is often a frozen instant of time; capturing just a tiny fraction of a second. But sometimes it requires a much longer exposure. In the case of this month's image, it was a couple/few minutes that were caught on one single frame of film.

A lot can happen in a few minutes. So it's not just the exposure, but the story behind the shot that is longer as well.

Several years ago some friends and I all pitched in and bought a big silver (converted school) bus, loaded it up and headed out of NYC on a cross-country road trip. Fast forward through Chicago --> giant sand dunes --> Funk, Nebraska --> crazy Kansas thunderstorms --> Valley of the Gods --> Grand Canyon --> Vegas strip --> San Francisco, where I picked up my 4WD truck to spend a few extra weeks wandering on my own.

Our final destination together was a lake deep inside Glacier National Park. To get there required leaving paved roads well behind. It takes hours to get to the lake after you've entered the park, and darkness had fallen early in our quest. At least the moon was full that night.

I had driven ahead, as my truck was obviously much more off-road-worthy than the bus. I reached an open plateau and stopped to let the bus catch up. I turned off the engine and heard silence. It was the type of peacefulness that's only found after hours of journeying into the wilderness... even if I was on a 'road.' I couldn't hear the bus at all. It was nice, so tranquil. As my eyes adjusted from headlights to moonlight I began taking it all in. Breathing placid mountain air. Relishing being where I was.

I pulled out the tripod - maybe I could capture a fragment of this. Set it up with the full moon glowing, the tree-lined slopes gradually revealing the way back down to the valley below, a couple mountains in the distance. Click the shutter open, and as if on queue, I hear something off in the distance. Or maybe not. There it is again... it's the bus. Well, the shutter should close soon, it's been a while. I hope it closes soon; the bus is getting closer and pretty soon it'll come up around the bend and ruin my shot. Yes, I remember clearly thinking the bus would "ruin" my shot.

Sure enough, here she comes, up around the bend with headlights and running lights all ablaze. Just as she rounds the curve and drives out of the frame... click. Shutter closed.

This was before digital, so I had no idea what happened with the shot, and had basically forgotten about it. Several weeks later as I'm going through the images from dozens of rolls of film from the trip, I see this strangely beautiful fluke. After a couple seconds of complete confusion, it all came rushing back. The solitude, the beauty, and the beast of a bus barging in on my zen.

This image has been a favorite of mine for a long time largely because of the few minutes of my life that it captures. As a photographer you often don't truly feel an image because when it only records a fraction of a second, you don't have time to remember what you felt or thought while the shutter was open, and most likely you were separated from the scene by looking through a viewfinder. I have a complete sensory impression of what went on in those few minutes, bookended by two distinct clicks of a shutter.

But beyond that there's a metaphoric meaning as well. That big silver bus that came roaring into my calm little landscape, threatening to ruin everything, actually made it much more exciting, interesting and beautiful. Those are my friends.

So the next time a proverbial big silver bus comes rolling through your scene... hop on! It could be the ride of your life!


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