Sunday, December 20, 2009

Twelve Seconds

It was not too cold last week. So I went for a walk with my camera at lunch. I wandered a bit around the places I've often photographed over the past two years—the Frog Pond skating rink, City Hall Plaza, the Old Granary Burial Ground, etc. I ended up at Government Center, where there are a lot of stairs, levels, and overlooks. I set up my tripod on a very high, thick wall, which fills the lower left corner of the picture. It was awkward, standing on tiptoes to look thorough the viewfinder and adjust the settings. But people flowed in swarms with their Christmas shopping and take-out lunches from the food court in Quincy Market. There is something moving to me about crosswalks--the waiting, the desire to be elsewhere, the sudden dash into traffic or the brisk walk when the light changes. Stasis and change. Also, one feels very slightly the force of government and danger in the red blinking Do Not Walk sign and the awareness that you might get a jaywalking ticket or, if you make and error in judgment crossing against the light, government might end up being your caretaker, at least until the police scrape you off the ground and send you off to the hospital. I also like the feeling of solidarity as you mass on the curb and the relief of making it to the other side, out of the spotlight, back to ordinary pedestrian life.

I took about 300 pictures over 45 minutes. With a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second. That represents about twelve seconds recorded out of the 45 minutes I stood there clicking away. This is in contrast with a still photo, which of course represents just the single twenty-fifth of a second. And a film, which would register 24 frames per second for the entire period. So the tally is 12 seconds of truth in my system, 1/25th (maximum) for the disciples of the decisive moment.

While I am doing the photoshopping, which takes about 20 hours over a week or two, I feel like I get to know some of the people I photographed. I might look at a particular person over ten frames to find the best figure in the best position for my purposes, and might silhouette them a couple of times, outlining their figures with a photoshop brush, getting to know the cut of their clothing, the knobs on their wrists, the shape of their heads, and sometimes a grimace or smile aimed at a walking companion, who may not be there. Many times, I end up omitting the companion, so figures are left expressing themselves to the air or to a person who passed in the same spot a few minutes sooner or later. I guess it heightens the feeling of isolation, each figure moving in its own little sphere of time.

At every stage, I am making decisions big and small, that affect the completed image. This is the essence of photography, of course, but multiplied many times for each of my images. Like most photographers, my pictures are answers to these questions: Where do I stand? Is the quality of the light adding to the picture? Is a certain fleeting feeling striking me just now, impelling me to press the shutter button? Will the pictures I'm taking fit into the rest of the images I'm working on? What's different in my work is that when I'm back home, I have to figure out what's hiding in all those images: what idea, theme, visual pun, emotional current, etc., is the richest material to make a picture from. I like the way this decision is the result of many random occurrences—coincidences, really, that are there, ready to be exploited. This makes my pictures both completely "found" objects and products of the imagination in equal part. Documents and fantasies.

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