Play Fool to Catch Wise

There's a great Jamaican proverb, a favorite of mine ever since I heard it on a radio interview a few months ago: “play fool to catch wise.” It's one of those expressions that just seems to luxuriously roll off the tongue, with enough whimsy to catch your attention, and enough abstruseness to hint at a greater truth. Frankly, I'm not sure what it means. Some proffer that the expression, which originates from the slave days, is a cautionary note about keeping your thoughts to yourself, and never letting on to others that there might be cunning cogitations behind the naive facade. I get that from the “play fool” part, but I suspect that the “catch wise” part offers a deeper and more profound lesson.

My guess is that playing fool is more than simply obscuring your thoughts as a defense from the prejudices of others. It is also, I believe, an aspiration. If you think you have all the answers, then you will never learn. A fool has only questions, and is not afraid to attempt what others think is impossible. By opening oneself to foolish possibilities, one may catch wise in the process.

The lesson for the photographer is to always strive to try new things and to constantly push boundaries and the “conventional wisdom.” You may look foolish crawling through the mud, shooting in the rain, or taking photos in the dark. Others may wonder what you are doing, and a few may even scoff or laugh derisively. Just grin like an idiot when this happens, and keep on playing the fool. Deep down inside, you know what is really going on.

There are plenty of people out there with all the answers, constantly seeking to impress others with the righteousness and certainty of their brilliance. If those who play fool catch wise, I wonder what is caught by those who play wise?

"Moody Blues" - Lake Superior, Minnesota

"Moody Blues" – Lake Superior, Minnesota

About the image: I guess I kind of felt like an idiot taking a photo of this spot in the faint light of twilight, a favorite of mine in Tettegouche State Park along the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. The light was flat, cold, and fading fast as the sun continued to drop deeper and deeper below the horizon. There was no color to the scene, and the clouds weren't moving in the right direction. But I decided I'd give it a chance anyway, and proceeded to start a series of two-minute exposures. In terms of composition, I used the crack in the wet rocks as a leading line, taking the eye to the sharp spiked rock along the shore. The distant cliffs act as a counterpoint, adding balance to the scene. I was surprisingly pleased with the results. By keeping my white balance set to Daylight, I was able to capture the rich blue tones of twilight, which our brains filter to look more neutral in color, but that film or a digital sensor can record in a way our eyes do not see. I don't know if I have “caught wise” with this photo, but I certainly caught something that I am pleased with, and something that is different from many other photos I have made.

Technical details: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 24-105mm lens (@24mm), 3-stop neutral density filter, 2-stop graduated neutral density filter, polarizer filter, ISO 100, f/16, 2 minutes.

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  1. Apostle Islands, Lake Superior

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