I looked up and thought I was in Gotham.
Staring at three towers, I was walking towards a Christmas market. The perspective changed with every step I took. I wasn’t watching where I was going. I wasn’t paying attention to the people I was with. I couldn’t take my eyes off the Atrium Tower, the Kollhoff Tower, and finally, the Bahn Tower. I had no idea what they were called.
But the Kollhoff reminded me of the Hobart in San Francisco and the Flatiron in New York. And maybe you don’t think about early 20th century high-rise architecture when you think about Gotham, but I do. I can’t seem to disentangle one from the other–to think about Gotham, as a real place and not something from the comic books–I have to think about buildings like these.
Modern architecture can be so fucking boring. How many buildings still carry this kind of personality? The Kollhoff (like the Hobart and Flatiron) really stands out as something worth appreciating. Something worth the photograph. It almost demands your attention. I don’t see how one can’t help but admire it.
Maybe go to Berlin. Take a lens with you that soaks up the light. Make a picture that brings you joy.
On the BART from 12th, I stare across
the train at a homeless man. He stinks
and he appears to be talking to me
and I watch him as his arms wave and
move and have their being in a crowded
car because no one wants to sit next
to a junkie. I send hand-wave emojis
to my friends when I want to die.
They think I’m saying hello. I wait
for the occasional text message back
asking how I am, if I’m ok, but my friends
are happy and have beautiful children.
I have thoughts about heroin, and how
many of us would detach from this life
if the passing wasn’t painful for the people
we love. I can see this hope in the junkie,
in how his body writhes when it’s high.
Slain in the spirit of his drug, he reaches
for the invisible, babbling word-like sounds
from his spirit to the uncomfortable people
all watching. Almost in tongues. Almost
absent from the body. Almost separation.
There are photos that only you can capture.
Photos that don’t care what kind of equipment you may have. Photos that could give a shit whether you had good light or the right lens. I honestly believe that this photo of my wife happened because she loves me. She doesn’t look at just anyone with that kind of smile, mischievous and maybe a little tired of camera shenanigans.
I’m always asking for another shot.
I think she was a little in love with that particular day in Santa Barbara, drinking wine in a beach town that feels like, for all intents and purposes, never-ending summer. Yes, my timing here was pretty great, but if it was someone else begging for a picture, it wouldn’t have come out quite the same.
I think it’s important to take photographs of the people you love. Even if they don’t want them. There will come a day in the future, when one of us will be gone. And I’ll either have this photo and the beauty contained within all its memories, or she’ll have it, remembering her husband with a camera, asking for just one more.
Creating a moment is a subtle art. I say this because I’m not very good at it. Almost every time it’s happened, it’s been an accident. And I think it needs to be, because I can tell when someone is trying too hard to make something happen. Colored smoke? A lone, obviously staged umbrella in an otherwise mediocre shot? Instagram is rife with them.
More often than not, a real moment that you create is often just a simple shift of your perspective. A nudge. That’s why they are so hard to get right. For the longest time, I stood with the crowd in front of the Venus de Milo at the Louvre in Paris, hoping to capture a shot. But the crowd was too thick and everything I shot was nothing more than a vacation photo.
In this case, I decided to use the crowd to my advantage, because almost no one was standing behind the statue. The crowd suddenly became part of the photograph, a throng of worshippers jockeying for position in front of their god. It was, all of the sudden, the shot I wanted. A moment worth having.
I’m not a professional photographer. I shoot with instinct more than anything else, but I love this shot. I think it says something about the crowd, about the statue, and ultimately, about me.
Truth be told, I wanted her photo from the moment she walked in to my friend’s get-together in Isla Vista, California. I don’t remember the names of any person represented in this photo, just that they were playing “Spoons”. Being an introvert, it takes some alcohol for me to interact with strangers, so I hovered in the shadows and took photographs. It sounds creepy, but social situations are hard and I tend to regress.
If given a choice, the option to blend into the wall or darkness and somehow become invisible is always the most enticing. Being seen presents difficulty for me. It feels like exposure. Defenselessness. And the resulting behavior is disconcerting for the people around me. I get it.
Here’s the thing. No one else saw this small sliver of time. And it was beautiful. Her smile in the light. Friends and strangers having a little fun. I wasn’t a part of it, and yet I was. Any expended effort, any social awkwardness that felt — yes, like suffering — was immediately worth it.
Small moments like these remind me that world isn’t just one giant shitshow. And I need to believe that. I have to know that.
This is how I keep faith. Walking in shadow just to see the light.