Things don’t always unfold the way we expect.
It was June 29, 2008. I had just attended the first personal development workshop of my life. I was high on inspiration, and eager to explore San Francisco an the surrounding area. I had dreamed of returning to the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marine District since my first trip there the early 1990s. The moment had finally arrived and I was impatient to unleash my camera on everything in sight. I had allowed for this precious extra day of exploration when I had booked my flight five months earlier.
My agenda for the day was ambitious. The first stop would be the Palace of Fine Arts. I had visited the site with a friend from Toronto in 1992. I remember being awestruck at the sheer size of the structure. Now that I had taken up photography and had a real camera, I had imagined this moment hundreds, if not thousand of times. I knew exactly how I would capture the giant dome of the rotunda and the soaring pillars reflecting in the lagoon.
I rose with the early summer sun and drove my rented Toyota Prius from the Oakland Marriot, across the Bay Bridge into the Marine District of San Francisco. Printed directions guided me and I easily found parking on a nearby side street. With my camera bag slung over my shoulder and tripod in hand, I started walking quickly in the general direction of The Palace. I hadn’t seen it yet and was filled with anticipation.
Most of my attention was on the increasingly grey sky. As I would soon see, there was a serious forest fire 150 miles to the south at Big Sur. I knew if I moved quickly, I’d be able to get my shot before too much smoke settled in for the day. Huffing and puffing through the side streets, I turned the corner onto Beach Street where I knew I’d get my first direct look.
I rounded the corner and stopped dead in my tracks. Instead of being greeted by the pristine beauty of my mind’s eye, all I could see was a mess. Unknown to me, The Palace of Fine Arts was undergoing a massive restoration. The entire rotunda was covered with scaffolding.
You know those moments when life dishes you exactly the opposite of what you are expecting?
I wanted to cry with disappointment. Let’s face it, I probably did.
Twelve years later, I look at these photos with fondness and a whisper of pride. They remind me of a time when life was uncertain. It was challenging “out there” because the Great Recession was at its apex. But a great adventure was about to begin. These photos are a metaphor for the beauty and chaos going on at the time.
In that moment I first saw that things weren’t going to be as planned, I had a choice. I could walk away in disappointment and get on with my drove down the coast. Or, I could dig in and adapt to the situation at hand. I was in an abundant frame of mind, so I decided I could do both. I put away my wide angle lens and started shooting every smaller composition I could see.
Challenge and disappointment are a moment in time, and time has a way of shifting perspective.
Case in point – the closeup of the scaffolding is one of my favorites. Not because of the subject matter, but because it tested my skills to get it “just right.”
What did I do the next time life handed me scaffolding? I jumped up and down with joy and made art.