A Simple Act

Turn on the news these days, and the story is the same. It seems the only “news” worth reporting is the latest despicable thing one of the candidates for President did or said, or a Kardashian being robbed, cheated on or divorced. Watch or read the headlines for a few days in a row, and it almost starts to feel normal.

It isn’t. Turn the TV off or put the newspaper down. Walk outside. Walk through a crowded city. Take in the surroundings and dare to interact. It will change you. It never fails to change me, if even for a moment.

Sunday afternoon I strolled through Prague with my camera as I often do. No agenda. No quota on the number of photos I would take. I just walked and looked. While passing through Wenceslas Square in Prague, thousands of tourists were taking in the last days of the season as autumn rolled in. As the shoppers and sightseers hurried past me, I looked over and saw this gentleman sitting by one of the sidewalk’s many retail stores.

I wasn’t surprised when we made eye contact. I think I was the only person among the thousands who had acknowledged his existence. Whenever I meet someone I want to photograph, I start with English and switch to Russian if that fails. Occasionally, as with him, we shared no common verbal language. I raised my camera in what I suppose to be the international language for, “Do you  mind if I take your photograph?” The man shrugged his shoulders and smiled. What happened next is why the moment, in retrospect, has moved me so.

This man, whose name I never learned, and whose only English word was “homeless,” sat patiently as I photographed him. He removed his hat and smoothed his hair for the camera. He shifted his position, obviously believing it would be better for a photograph – it was. He was not hoping to gain more followers on his Twitter account or garner a more lucrative contract. It was obvious he did these things because I’d simply shown interest in taking his photograph. People frequently walked along the sidewalk between us, forcing me to wait for the next frame. I made multiple adjustments between shots to ensure a proper exposure. And he waited. After I had the shot above, I thanked him. We shook hands. His grip and eyes communicated to me he had enjoyed our brief connection. I’m certain it meant even more to me.

The word genuine is defined as truly what something is supposed to be; authentic. His act was simple. But when compared to those who frequently appear in our news and on our debate stage, his seemed infinitely more sincere, incredibly more genuine, and absolutely a reflection of who he really is. It was refreshing to spend time with someone real.


Something to Say

It has been well over a month since I posted. While it’s true I’ve been traveling, that doesn’t explain my absence. When reading Oxford’s definition of a blog – “a regularly updated website or web page. . . that is written in an informal or conversational style,” I was surprised to learn it had nothing to do with content or what the “blogger” wants to say. Perhaps that explains why there are millions of them, and why they created a word to describe those who write them. This is not an insult of “bloggers,” but a realization that I am not one. I care about what I write, not how frequently I do it. That is why I have not written in approximately six weeks – I had nothing to say. Or more accurately, I’d not slowed down long enough for thoughts worth sharing to reach the place in my mind and heart where I can no longer keep them to myself. Luckily for my soul, which is the greatest beneficiary of these posts, I’ve had time to slow down, to think, to reflect.

Several weeks ago I had an interesting conversation about art and photography while riding the metro to work. I shared my website with my fellow commuter, and had forgotten about the encounter until I received an email from him yesterday. He wrote, “when I see something which is really true, lacking any attempts of cheap effects, then I know it. And your photos make me watch them, stand up, go and think for a while, then come back to the computer and watch them again.” It was perhaps the greatest compliment a photographer could ever receive, worth more than any commission or exhibition.

His words led me to reflect on why I choose the subjects I photograph, particularly the people. Which word best describes the feeling when I walk past someone I know I want to photograph? Again I turned to Oxford: Fascinating – “extremely interesting.” No, it’s more than interest. Intriguing – “arousing one’s curiosity or interest.” Not enough. Compelling – “Not able to be resisted.” Closer, but it still does not fully describe the feeling. Perhaps it’s indescribable. But, I know this – I feel it.

When I slow down, I seek. I search. I look for stories. Anyone who has been on this earth more than a few years knows life is filled with a wide range of emotions – good, bad, happy, sad, fulfilling, devastating, intimate, impersonal. Our experience of, not texting or blogging about, this ever changing roller coaster of emotions IS the human experience. They, not words, are what define us. They are our life.

When I walk the streets with my camera, I look for those emotions. I search for people who have removed their mask, even if just for a moment, allowing those willing to look a glimpse of the marks, blemishes and scars of their lives. In almost every instance, my interaction with them is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. Their gracious nature reminds me of the freedom in taking off the mask, of being who we are, and allowing our experiences, good or bad, to unashamedly be part of who we are in the present.

I choose the subjects I do because I believe what the late photographer Edward Steichen once said – “Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man.” I photograph them because I want to understand myself.

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