If you’ve been following this blog with any regularity, you’ll notice that there’s been a pattern to my posts. Tuesday and Thursdays I try to post a review of a book I’ve read. (I had a good backlog of these on Goodreads to draw from.) On Saturdays I try to post about something I’ve created (usually a published short story). And on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I post a photograph I’ve taken.
I had a pretty good backlog of these as well, and one of my motivations for this blog was that I simply didn’t know what to do with them. I wanted to share them. This seemed like a pretty low-stress way of doing it. So far I’ve been pleased.
I have very little photographical training (a single audited photojournalism course as an undergraduate). But I like to think I have an eye for detail. And I think I know where that came from.
When I was young I used to pour over the photograph albums my parents kept in their bookcases. It was always surreal to see images of my parents and their friends as much younger people, but what held my attention– what captured my eye– were the photographs my father had made. A railway yard. A long row of straw bales in a meadow. A certain dead tree in different seasons against different skies. I grew up with a father who always had a camera strap across his shoulders. Wherever we went, it was normal to see him stop, lean up against a wall or hunker down on his heels, and take a shot at something. And it wasn’t the desire to document every single experience that has become so prevalent with our ubiquitous camera phones. It was simply seeing something from a different perspective.
When I started traveling, I found myself doing the same things in the cities I saw. What attracted me most though were the colors and textures of urban entropy. The tangle of electrical wires. The forgotten, peeling mural. Weathered wood. The things you walk by a hundred times and never really look at. (One day I’ll write a post about stencil graffiti, my favorite urban ghost.) I haven’t figured out how to capture large natural vistas, and I don’t like taking pictures of people. (I was scared to death in my photojournalism class that I’d have to take pictures of strangers.) But I think the camera is well suited for calling out the lovely, busy, complex details of the streets and alleys of a city, and so I go look for them.
This blog has been good motivation to continue. Now when I travel I try to give myself at least one morning wherever it is I’m going to get out and shoot. I try to leave early, just after sunrise, both for the quality of light and to avoid awkward questions.
“Why are you taking a picture of that fire escape?”
“Um. Color and texture?”
“It’s ugly and rusty. Go away.”
I always go by bike or by foot, because if you’re looking for details, there’s no way you’re going to catch them in a car. Plus, this is the way to really learn a city (or at least patches of cities).
I shoot with a Fujifilm FinePix S 5200 that my father got for me. I always use natural light, and I don’t do any more adjusting than can be done easily in iPhoto. I delete a lot. Then I post the ones I like.
Things change. Cities, streets, and buildings are born and die like people, only slower. Brick and mortar ephemera. There was a building across campus for a few months on which someone had spray-painted in huge letters YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. I kept forgetting to bring my camera, and then it was gone.
Capturing things that will disappear. My dad taught me that too. All these images are his, but this last one is especially significant. That structure is the tower in the train yard in Flint, Michigan, where my grandfather spent most of his career as a yard master. It’s gone now. But one morning the light was perfect, and Dad took the shot.