Each of you reading this should know, if you don’t already, that I’m not an expert on Vespa scooters, riding or anything pertaining to the management and maintenance of machines and devices. I ride, learn and try not to be an Enthusiastic Amateur.
The other day I was riding in the remains of morning fog. On the road two hours too late to really experience the full magic of the ground hugging clouds, I wandered from one side of the Nittany Valley to the other in hopes of entering a surreal landscape.
Later, looking at the photographs of the Vespa facing a world that the fog could conjure, I thought about what I’ve learned about riding, riding in fog and other weathers and how much I want to avoid being an Enthusiastic Amateur.
That label was explained to me by an art director I had the good fortune to work with at Penn State — the late James J. McClure. He assigned that term to individuals who presented themselves as photographers because they had an expensive camera, made pictures in far flung places, and managed to make correct exposures and create images in focus. A parallel with scooter and motorcycle riders has not escaped me.
Jim went on that the Enthusiastic Amateur lacks a deeper interest or understanding of the process they were part of or the ability to integrate it into their own seeing. They don’t grow as a photographer. It remains a technical performance of steps never to be questioned or pushed to another level. Their achievement — images that are simultaneously technically proficient and almost always boring. Or predictable. Their work is an endless repetition of a familiar, comfortable set of steps.
McClure was always after, “Surprising and Delightful.”
Sunshine on a warm day may be the conventional norm for riding a scooter or motorcycle. I certainly see more fellow riders on days like this one. Riding in fog was driven more by my photographic desires than any notions of riding or related two-wheeled adventure. Making decisions to exploring that environment made demands on my riding abilities and whether I was equipped or ready to handle the dramatic change in visibility — for me and for my fellows on the road.
McClure helped make me a better photographer by steering me away from an obsession with tools and tricks to vision and meaning. I’ve tried to carry those lessons to riding the Vespa and always remain aware of what I know, and more importantly, what I don’t know. I don’t want to be an Enthusiastic Amateur on the road. WIth photography and riding, perhaps I’m searching for surprising and delightful.
My own skills are adequate for transporting myself from place to place as safely as possible. I don’t ride fast, can’t do tricks and generally maintain the lowest level possible of mechancial skill and still keep the machine on the road. When I ride I consume experience and remarkably find myself more attuned to the thrum of the world and my reactions to it. For me, a scooter or motorcycle is a magnificent extension of the camera.
Riding has become a way to explore meaning in life, an opportunity to practice being open to new experiences and relish moments of enjoyment that make being alive and on the road so grand.
The Enthusiastic Amateur wouldn’t be riding on that road.