Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik, Iceland

You’ve heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That statement cannot ring more true than it does for photographers or travel writers who see marvelous things all the time and can usually only be stopped by something that raises the bar to “spectacular.”

Why is it that something as simple as a mushroom in the grass along the seaside walkway in Reykjavik, Iceland catches my eye? Certainly, the majestic and architecturally famous Harpa Concert Hall nearby or the boats pulling out of the harbor heading for the Atlantic Ocean offer more impressive sights, but it is the small mushroom in the grass that commandeers my attention.

Perhaps it is the idea that something so simplistic and so insignificant among significant surroundings can stand out so boldly; perhaps I am enamored by the way a tiny mushroom can compete with the other majestic elements of nature in Iceland like the erupting Bardabunga volcano or the world’s largest ice sheet.

As a photographer and travel writer, I look for the impressive. So, when something so seemingly unimpressive as a mushroom or a window or a tree branch stops me, I have to wonder why.

Philosopher Edmund Burke wrote in 1756, that beauty is an intervention of the senses. If we apply that perspective to the things and people that catch our eye, then it explains why beauty isn’t just in the eye of the beholder. This theory would assume that our interpretation of something, like a mushroom in the grass, is a collective moment of all sensory input.

As I scroll through the thousands of photographs that I have taken over the years, I find many examples random things – like a wagon wheel, graffiti, a kitten by a doorway – all things that caught my eye for not other reason than I thought they were beautiful at that moment.

Some moments deliver so much sensory input that we become connected by our emotions. For example, the photo on the front of my website — the same photo that graces my business cards of a young Filipino girl holding a mango has significance to me beyond the perfect light and the ideal angle of my camera. There was an environment surrounding that moment in a crowded Manila marketplace and a verbal exchange with a woman who wanted me to take that child that will forever connect me to that photo.

Maybe we will never fully understand the way our brains interpret beauty, or why something that you find uninteresting and walk by –makes me stop and stare in awe. Throughout time, I have come to understand that those moments are personal ones and that those things we see aren’t random at all — they are carefully selected to impress us by the unique and individual gifts of our senses.

What things have made you stop and take in the moment?