I'm a huge John Wayne fan. I’ll watch just about any movie more than once in which he stars. Just about any movie, because over the course of his long and fabled career he managed to appear in some stinkers. One painful viewing was more than enough for films like The Conqueror or The Green Berets.
As if the first two hours and 20 minutes of The Green Berets were not bad enough, the final two minute scene--meant to be a tear-jerker--adds insult to injury. With the warm glow of the sun setting over the South China Sea, The Duke must tell a little Vietnamese boy that his American soldier friend has been killed. Cue the tears and the sunset-as-the-end-of-something metaphor.
There is one glaring problem. One cannot see the sunset over the South China Sea from the east coast of Vietnam. Sunrise? Yes. Sunset? Geographically impossible.
A quick glance at my Instagram and Facebook photo galleries shows that I am obviously obsessed with photographing sunrises and sunsets. (Since I've retired, far more sunsets than sunrises.)
Sometimes someone will ask of a particular photograph if it's a sunrise or a sunset. Unless you know where the picture was taken or the time of day, it's impossible to tell the difference between a sunrise and a sunset.
When I photograph one or the other I'm often trying to accomplish the same thing: to evoke an emotion or create a mood. Whether it's a sunrise or sunset rarely matters. Both can be dramatic, beautiful, awe-inspiring, even ominous.
The difference did matter very much to Paul Laurence Dunbar. Born in 1872, the son of former slaves, Dunbar was one of the first African Americans to receive both national and international recognition as a significant writer.
By his mid-twenties, Dunbar knew that he would not live very long. He was in ill-health for the last eight years of his short life. Tuberculosis, pneumonia and alcohol claimed him at age 33. He left behind a collection of novels, stories, essays, and poetry, among them, a poem in which he tells those who love him not to mourn his death. The last stanza of “When All Is Done” sums up his reasons:
When all is done, say not my day is o'er,
And that thro' night I seek a dimmer shore:
Say rather that my morn has just begun,--
I greet the dawn and not a setting sun,
When all is done.
“I greet the dawn and not a setting sun.” With this image, Dunbar tells us that the difference between sunrise and sunset is the difference between life and death, between joy and mourning, between peace and anxiety.
I am often guilty of seeing my days as a progress toward an inevitable sunset. I know, though, that for those of us who hope in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, that life is a pilgrimage toward sunrise. When all is done, we travel toward the dawn and not the setting sun.
50 years of photographs and 35 years of keeping a commonplace book.