First of all, I’m going to say right out loud that I really like this image. And now I’ll tell you the story.
Last Sunday I drove down to Isla Vista to drop Hilary and Emily back at UCSB. I got up early on Monday and decided to meander home, stopping at Missions along the way. My stop at Mission Santa Ines was short, since it wasn’t open yet. I wandered around the grounds a bit, but that one didn’t grab me. Next stop was Mission San Luis Obispo, right in the heart of town. I took my time, wandering inside and out in the little garden. It’s a lovely Mission. A bit farther down the road I stopped at Mission San Miguel.
The first time I visited Mission San Miguel, I was absolutely captivated. It was a Sunday morning in September, and parishioners filled the church. I listened to the singing and wandered the grounds and came away with several images that seemed to me to capture the feeling of the place. This time I didn’t see anything that would add to that collection in any significant way. So I had lunch at the Country Diner and kept on driving.
I arrived at Mission San Juan Bautista at around 2:30 in the afternoon. I had visited here once before too, in search of the bell tower featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. They took the bell tower down years ago, but the ladies in the gift shop are used to people inquiring about it. They have a brochure.
This was my favorite Mission of the day and I really wanted to make some photographs. I tried to frame the arches in an interesting way; I studied the candles flickering in corners of the church and tried to create an image that showed them as I saw them; I took a few frames of the altar. But I knew all the images were just okay at best. I wasn’t finding the view or the moment I wanted.
My friend Sabrina Henry posted an entry about this very issue today. What do you do when, even though you are surrounded by beauty, you don’t see anything that compels you to snap the shutter? In my case, on this day, I was trying too hard. To be different. To be “artistic”. It wasn’t working.
So I decided it was enough just to enjoy being at the Mission. It was a sunny late November afternoon. There were chickens and colorful roosters roaming free in the garden. There were two cats, one of whom was happy to ignore the fowl and let me pet him. It wasn’t bad.
And just as I was ready to head back to the car for the final leg of my journey, I walked by this lady. The low winter sun was streaming over her and the beads of the many rosaries around her neck glistened and glowed. I had never seen anything like that. The gesture of all those rosaries seemed to me to be so unplanned and genuine. That tiny woven friendship bracelet placed on her head — you don’t see that in the brochure. This was a real moment and I very much wanted to spend some time photographing it. Of the several images I took, this one is my favorite.
Does it stand alone as a compelling image? I don’t know. But I know the story of the day, and this image is kind of my happy ending. My Mission moment.