5.16.2013

A Short, Quite Personal History Of Photography.

Do you love this photo as much as I do?  I doubt it.  While there's a chance that you grew up in the shadow of the spreading rust belt like I did (forever and indelibly shaping your notion of the aesthetic merits of decay), you probably didn't have the afternoon that I had leading up to this moment.

Some of you know that I've been taking pictures, one a day, for almost two months (and I plan to continue for one year).  I was following the example of my friend Alyssa, and returning to an archival jones that I've indulged before.  I love collecting things, and I love the idea of collecting ideas and experiences incrementally even more.

When I wrote my two-sentence-a-day blog, I had a hope that collecting the snapshots of my life and stringing them together on the rope of a blog would provide the tea leaves that later, I or a particularly devoted friend/reader, could interpret and unlock the mysteries of the universe.  It was almost a kind of McAnthopological Urge: I would collect and arrange the artifacts dutifully for a year, and then Presto! I'd have a ready-made dig-site that could be mined for the sort of meaning that is usually compressed and reserved for the curiously detached humans who return after five hundred or five thousand years.

(So far? No luck on my Immediate Gratification Version of The Benefits That Time And History Usually Give Us.)

But what did happen to me during that process?  Was that I started to see myself as a novitiate in the ritual of something larger than myself and my experience.  Attending to the daily and the mundane in a way that conjoined my particulars with a larger sense of Human - Being?  Felt like good work to me.

This process (a picture a day) has been different for me.  The challenges have been diverse: how to choose a single image for any given day, how to have the courage and interest and passion (on bad days) to even snap any photographs at all,  how to balance the documentary and the artistic urges, do I indulge or defy the tropes and techniques I am most easily drawn to?  Those challenges withstanding, the realizations have been gifts -- more than worth the challenges.

I have realized that I see beauty often, but am often so taken with the press of non-important-whatevers, that I often fail to bracket that moment:  to breathe it in, accept it, acknowledge it, explore it.

(and on that same point) I realize that I perceive beauty to be Divine. Not notes from the Divine intended for me and my edification, but instead? Actually manifestations of transcendance and goodness and possibility. And as much as I'm a word guy and a story guy, I am so much more viscerally and immediately transported by visual experiences of beauty.

I have recognized that my point of view, my eye, is actually unique and particular.  It's also (of course) trained by the zeitgeist of the moment, but it's drawn to some things more than others, and sometimes finds the unexpected beautiful thing that perhaps no on else will or does. 

(There's more, but the year is long, so I'll save some of my realizations for later.  I was trying to talk about the afternoon that led up to my photograph.)

I have started driving down streets that I don't usually drive down: so I know better where I live, so I see and recognize patterns more clearly, to appreciate the particularities of this place, and maybe (?) to find an unexpected picture for the day?

So this particular afternoon, I was driving a down a little street, a post-war outcropping of tiny Cape Cods, I found myself wishing that I could capture the symmetry, historically visible homogeneity, gradual-decline-into-individuation, and the courageous battle between decay and upward mobility, playing out so poignantly on the faces of so many of these properties.   Of course I could not:  it was a cineast-ic fantasy, and trying to manage a good tracking shot as I drive (though I've done more than my share of such unsafe capture), is a terrible idea.  

And I missed my turn.  Which is almost impossible when you're already taking the long-way home.  And you're trying to get lost on purpose.  (Can a "missed turn" be anything but a "stroke of luck"?) But feeling that tug of obligation and responsibility, I turned and tried to meander back home.  

Which meant that I came to this corner that I don't remember ever sitting at before, but there was a red light and a horizon to my right that I had a moment to stare at.  The horizon is formed by an overpass that in several ways crystallizes the profound sense of delectable decay that I've been indulging more and more as I continue this project.  

If you follow that road, cross that overpass, chase that horizon? It will lead you to Walmart and the County Jail and the Crime Ridden Projects of Canton.  And beyond that?  Louisville: the charmingly preserved small-town-Ohio where we found out (just in time before we made an offer on a stunning century home, 15 years ago when we were just moving to town), that the KKK still had an active chapter in Louisville, and perhaps our racially diverse family would not find our best sense of home in that particular idyll.  

So I reached across the passenger seat: held my iphone steady and SNAPPED this photograph. 

A photograph is always full of history: in this case the history of one moment before, when the archival and cinematic urges were swelling inside me, making my eye practically burst with longing for beauty, and ALSO in this case, a longer history -- generations and generations, years and years of aspiration, division, disappointment and endlessly deferred horizons.

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