How Parkinson’s changed my perspective

SmugMug customer, Ry Birge is based in Houston, Texas and has used his Parkinson’s diagnosis as a way to appreciate doing the things he enjoys most; photography and spending time with his grandkids. Here’s how Parkinson’s has changed his perspective on life and photography.

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013. At times it limits me physically, but it doesn’t define me. As one of my close friends, who also has Parkinson’s quips: “Moving water doesn’t freeze.” Well I have no intention of freezing. Life is not about what you don’t have and what you can’t do. It’s about what you can do with what you do have.

I began my journey as a photographer at an early age. My grandfather would take me on photographic expeditions along the Potomac River near Washington DC. These photo trips taught me many life lessons through the lens of his Leica camera. Each of us sees things from different angles, and by acknowledging this we can enrich ourselves by expanding our horizons.

While waiting for a flight in Baltimore-Washington International Airport, I found myself watching the crowds of people as they scurried through the terminal. For some reason my perspective shifted to the floor. It was shiny and metallic and created a perfect mirror to capture images from a completely different angle.


Capturing travelers in the reflective floor of a terminal in Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

This is what photography does for me. Once the camera is in my hands, it enables me to look for the possibilities around me and seek out the stories unfolding.

Lesson 1: Dealing with Shadows

My grandfather told me that the shadows are the most important aspects of the picture. “Look for them and use them wisely,” he counseled me. “They provide contrast and they help define things. Without them the bright spots would not stand out. Look for the light in the darkness.” Parkinson’s is a shadow in my life that helps the bright spots stand out. When my meds are a little off, small precise movements, like moving my fingers, can be a challenge. The bright spot is that I am aware of and appreciate all the movements I’m still capable of. Most of the time my clicker finger works just fine.


Lesson 2: Slow it down.

Parkinson’s has forced me to slow down over the years. I was a consultant for 38 years and traveled internationally for work and pleasure I was always on the go and would pride myself on being the fastest walker in the airport or on the street. I’ve learned that there is more to life than increasing its speed.Since retiring I have more time to appreciate and spend time with my friends, family, and grandchildren. Oh and more time for photography. All bright spots.

I tend to enjoy nature photography the most and have a rich variety of shooting environments nearby my home. In particular I like capturing images of anything that flies because of the technical challenges including birds, dragonflies, and butterflies. With this style of photography, it forces me to slow down and be patient for the photograph I am aiming to capture. For me, it’s a very meditative way to take photos.

Living just outside Houston, we have a rich variety to choose from and in the spring and fall we’re in the center of the migratory path for many species. In the fall, hummingbirds are of particular interest. They migrate to the Gulf Coast to recharge and energize for their epic flight across the Gulf of Mexico. Most Ruby Throated hummingbirds fly nonstop 500 miles or more across open water to Mexico.

American bald eagles also follow the migratory path of the birds. Mass migration provides an ample food supply for these majestic birds. There are also well-known scavengers and will even try to steal food from other predators. I took the following picture of an eagle trying to steal the well-earned catch of an Osprey. The Osprey prevailed due to its maneuverability and speed.


A Ruby Throat hummingbird getting his early morning nectar fix at this Chinese lantern blossom last fall.


An eagle trying to steal the well-earned catch of an osprey. The osprey prevailed due to its maneuverability and speed.

Lesson 3: Let the photo come to you.

Another of my grandfather’s adages was, “Be patient: wait for the shot and it will come to you.” I’m not endowed with natural patience, but I’ve learned positioning myself in the proper context then waiting for something to happen does have its rewards.

A dragonfly will claim territory then defend it against any potential challengers. They will find a perch to light on so they can oversee their territory. When a transgressor enters they pursue with awesome tenacity until there chased off. Then they return once again to that perch. If you patiently watch, you will learn where they perch which will set you up to capture some great photos.


Lesson 3: Focus on the little things

Living with Parkinson’s has led me to appreciate little things in life. Encouraging words given or a simple smile — these things mean a lot. Looking for little things has also led me to some interesting photographic material. When you take the time to investigate the world around you on a small scale, the wonders of earth really open up to you. So many insects, animals, and other aspects of nature live in the shadows, overlooked by a world too hurried or busy to pay them any mind. Stop and look around once in a while — you might just witness something spectacular.


An orchard spider was captured in my backyard. He positions himself in the center of his world waiting for his next meal he was a patient little booger and before long his patience paid off.


After a heavy fog overnight I found an unused spiderweb that was laden with moisture. I took some pictures with my macro lens. When I zoomed in during post-processing the results were mind blowing. There is an entire universe present within those small almost indistinguishable droplets of water on the web. They shine like jewels strung together by an invisible thread. Yes, little things mean a lot.

Lesson 4: Don’t overlook the richness around you.


I had seen birds roosting on its old well-worn branches, so I thought this old tree might be a useful beacon to attract some good bird shots. An Osprey flew in and landed on one of the branches with a freshly caught meal. He waited around for a good while preening himself as the fish slowly gave up to the inevitable. Luck is the place where preparation and opportunity meet.

I recall on one of our outings my grandfather, pointing to a group of Mallard ducks floating in a pond, turned to me and said, “Now, will you look at that!” He pointed at a group of Mallard ducks floating in a pond.

“Now what do you see?”

“A duck,” I replied.

He then asked, “Is that all you see? Look more closely.” As I gazed at the ducks the picture began to unfold like a budding flower. I noticed their reflections in the water, the various tones of blue made rich by the sky’s reflection, the logs submerged in the water along the bank, the heavily forested background. This lesson taught me that there is always more than meets the eye. Don’t simply look but instead, probe, explore into your surroundings. Doing so, you see the richness, the potential, in a scene.


Baby Skink taking refuge in a trumpet plant blossom

When I apply this to my life, I experience a deeper appreciation of connectivity between myself and the world around me. We are all connected and interdependent. Failure to recognize these connections leads to feelings of isolation, separateness, pain and despair. As we look through our cameras viewfinder we are seeing ourselves and discovering our connectivity with the world around us. We are inclined to see the world not as it is, but as we are and we should take comfort in knowing we are not alone.

Ry has made his SmugMug site accessible to him, by using the small preview thumbnails, Ry is able to maneuver around his site a lot easier. He invites you to check out his forum and upload some of your own photos. Maybe you’ve had your own life changing event and use photography as a creative outlet? Take a look at the Ry’s SmugMug site here.

Written by Lauren MacNeish

June 11, 2018 · 6 min read

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