1.05.2010

Moving Thru LIfe. Graceful Moments.

Roman Couple sitting in front of the Pantheon.  1995

It's safe to have a routine that you follow.  Oatmeal and coffee for breakfast.  A day in the office.  Home to the wife and kids.  Dinner.  Television.  An hour or two looking at websites.  And then the same thing all over again.  And then you die.  And you haven't really lived a bad life.  But did you engage?

I'm as guilty as everyone else of giving in to entropy.  There's a tremendous comfort in routine and knowing with fair certainty what will happen tomorrow and the day after.   But I resist.  I want to be out watching the world happen.  I want to actually see those moments they work so hard to replicate on TV to tweak our emotional longing in the service of some product or pharmaceutical.  I want to see people in love.  People who've lost hope.  People who are trying hard to eke out some shred of happiness.

And I can't do that by staying home or showing up to the office.  I have to be where the last of the real people are.  Out in life.  In the flow.  On the street.  In restaurants and in bars.  Falling in love and then being disappointed and falling out of love.  Dressing up for someone.  Waiting. Anticipating.

I took some time off to go to Rome by myself.  I took what many would consider to be an inappropriate camera.  A Hasselblad 500 CM with an old, brassed 100mm f3.5 Zeiss Planar.  I carried a pocket full of black and white film with me in my jacket.  And I would just wander around looking at life.  The camera wasn't a tool, it was an excuse to drop into the river of life and swim along with people who'd disconnected from boredom and routine and who were living life as fully as they could.

I sat down to have a cold drink and looked forward to see this couple.  They were totally engaged in each other.  When she reached out to touch him with her right hand the gesture was so wonderfully real that I was compelled to take a photo.

When I closed down my darkroom in the late 1990's I lost the negative to this image.  I've never felt a keener loss for an object.  I don't think a week went by when I didn't think of the negative.  I have a large print of the image in my house but the thought that I'd never be able to make another print, would never be able to share this image gnawed at me.  I felt the loss so keenly.

Last year I was clearing out old negatives and throwing stuff away.  I found this in a folder of corporate images from a company that had long since gone bankrupt.  I usually throw away whole folders but some instinct pushed me to take a look through before tossing the folder in the trash.  And there was the strip of images.  A beautiful strip of four frames of this couple.  Sitting in chairs at a McDonald's in the eternal city.  And, no kidding, I found myself tearing up with joy.

For one more brief time I felt myself connected to that river of life.  And it's a reminder to leave my routine and venture out.  Even if it's just a Sunday afternoon walk across town.  Because when I'm out I know I'm watching real life and not some facsimile on TV.  The camera is just an excuse.

And so what works and what doesn't work?



This is an image of my son, Ben when he was just two years old.  It works for me but does it work for anyone other than me and his mother?  It's hard to say.  I love the pose and the way the light comes through the big double french doors that face north.  I love the way his left arm supports him.  I love the way his toes look and the intent engagement of his eyes.  But is there something universal about the image of a child?

The image was shot with a 45mm lens on a Contax G2.  I used a 400 ISO black and white film and I'm certain I shot this at f2 or f2.8.   The images was grainy to begin with and this is a scan of a Fuji die sublimation print.  Does the look and feel transcend the technical limitations?   Would this be a better image if I'd shot it with a D3x or a Canon 5d mk2?

Sometimes too much knowledge is a dangerous thing.  What if I brought an Elinchrom strobe in a big softbox outside the window and pulled a fill card into the other side?  What if I shot with a camera that had no noise?  It's all academic because I didn't do any of these things and yet, I still have this image tacked to the way behind my monitor where I can see it any time I look up.  And what I see reflected is calmness and content and potential.  He's 14 now and the print endures.  It's a reminder of the arc of my life.

When I look at the wall behind my monitor it has photos that mean something to me.  A print of five year old Ben at a coffee shop with a hot chocolate.  Ben in a big chair at Starbucks.  Ben as the smallest kid in the line of kids waiting to race at the swim meet.  A photo of his mother with the same calm and content look.  My friend, Anne Butler, looking timeless and regal.  A fireman holding his small baby in his arms.
Do these images mean anything to anyone else?  Does it matter?

I read on forums where people ask "What should I shoot?  I'm bored..." and it amazes me.  There is so much beauty everywhere.  Who has time to capture it all?