I’m finally restarting my journaling. Well, it’s a modern day journal. It’s been since junior high school when I maintained a journal. I think one reason I did not keep it up was because I’ve been looking for focus. I think I’ve found that focus, at least for now. It’s photography.
Maybe what this journal will help me accomplish is some focus in photography. Maybe it’s not so much focus in the way that it will keep me narrowly focused, like using a telephoto to zoom in on an object. But rather to explore how I can develop more of a soul in the photography I’m doing, which may mean photographing more than just sports.
To be sure, one of the drivers of shooting sports is to find and reveal the inner soul of people. That is, when people are involved with sport, they are pretty exposed. They’re too consumed with what they are doing, how they are performing, what they are focused on achieving to hold pretenses. They are stripped of self-consciousness. In other words, they hardly even acknowledge that I’m there taking their picture. It seems to provide an easy access to that soul.
My focus on high school sports is perhaps one of my greatest joys because in addition to the revealing realness of shooting sport, is the innocence of youth. They’re kids. Many of their bodies and physical talents are reaching a high level, but they are far from perfection. Clumsiness of imperfection is also very real and part of the beauty.
But in shooting sport, perhaps the most fulfilling sight I appreciate is that of the underprivileged, the kids in the toughest neighborhoods, the kids too many people outside of their own parents see as throw away kids. There are too many of them. Kids who have the same desire, focus, determination, dedication, and spirit as anyone. But these kids often go unseen. They don’t have parents hovering them with cameras and video cameras. They don’t work out in nice well-equipped athletic facilities. They aren’t surrounded by cable companies taping their performances, like those I’ve the broadcasting of games I’ve witnessed in surrounding suburban communities. They don’t get seen.
I guess that’s where photography comes in. It helps to show what may not be otherwise seen.
Part of what I’ve been trying to do, to push myself, is to photograph what is out there in a way that does provide a view of what’s out there. I’ve started it with this “Textures of Minneapolis” project.
Thanks to Jack Mader’s Photo I assignment at MCTC, I am shooting to fulfill a need to show “urban details.” Jack’s good enough about this subject to keep it broad enough for each of us to interpret in our own way. I’ve taken this project on, as I often do, in perhaps too big of a way in that I’m looking for urban details in each of our neighborhoods. There are some 85 neighborhoods in Minneapolis, so I realize that I may be biting off more than I can chew. But I like having a context for things, so I may not get to all 85 at once. But it will keep me exploring and pushing myself to discover urban details not just in my comfortable space, but also in places in which I am not so familiar.
I think reading David Byrne’s “Bicycle Diaries” while working on this project is also helping. Byrne’s book is about accessing a city via bicycle. I’m right in line with that in that there are so many details we miss because we stream right by them in our protected spaces, whether that’s an automobile, the kind of street we tend to travel that keeps us outside where things really happen, or our minds that tend to be preoccupied with so much other than where we actually are. I guess for me, photography is about being present. It’d about noticing and appreciating details.
So my project, “Textures of Minneapolis” started with seeing a lamp post a block away from my house that’s antique. I don’t know if I’ve seen any more like it, but it’s got amazing detail to it. And its patina is so real, so imperfect, so authentic and so time genuine. It’s reached this point only in a way that it could, by standing there year after year after year.
But I’m going to bet that 99.99% of the people who pass this lamppost never actually notice it’s there. It’s invisible because it just is. To me, it may be unnoticed, but it still adds to the texture of our neighborhood. It building material says it’s established. “They don’t make them like that anymore.” Its delicate and intricate details say craftsmanship and quality. Its age says it’s functional and enduring.
So I’ve begun looking for other objects in other neighborhoods. Looking to see what they say about those places. My focus is in public objects. I’m trying to stay away from signs and privately owned objects because I’m trying to focus on our public infrastructure. But I wonder how well I will do with that. I’ve already found it a challenge to find public objects with interesting detail in other, especially less economically advantaged neighborhoods. That already says something. It says we, as a city as a public, may not invest equitably in all of our neighborhoods. Duh, would be the response to that lightning bolt of an idea I’m figuring many would say.
Geez, I’m having a flashback to my Master’s thesis that was about this very same subject: the public investment in infrastructure as it relates to the changing socio-economics of a neighborhood. Keep pressing on that with photography. But what is distinct in my objective with this photography project is I actually am looking to discover and reveal as possible the beautiful detail that exists everywhere. I’m trying to say that it does exist but it may be overlooked. That we already have our own lens of preoccupation and preconception and prejudice that does not allow us to actually see the beauty that sits before us. It’s a theory. Now I’m working (and determined) to prove it.
But the one thing I want to do is to push myself (and others) to look beyond the beauty of the inanimate. Sure, I am out there looking for “things” to photograph. And I don’t underestimate the challenge I’ve already set for myself trying to collect some 85 of these things that show detail of beauty in public spaces. But in walking and observing and seeking these things, I’ve also encountered and will encounter people.
These people are, as I see it, also a part of the texture of these neighborhoods. I want to get more comfortable photographing these people to represent and express the uniqueness of our urban fabric.
The first person I encountered and photographed was last week, a street musician on the Nicollet Mall downtown. I loved the juxtaposition of him, not quite dirty or homeless, but still in relative contrast to the beauty and elegance of the mannequins in the storefront behind him. He was friendly and fine with my taking his picture. I found myself talking briefly with other homeless people on the mall, but didn’t quite have the guts to ask to take their picture, except the one I took as a reflection to a sign about selling business suits. Again, a juxtaposition kind of story shot.
Earlier this week I shot a young man in a park playing his guitar. I liked talking with him a bit, and only shot his hands strumming. And yesterday, I encountered a guy with his bow and arrow doing target practice in a park practice range. I actually stopped at the site before he got there for the purpose of shooting the straw target, but was waiting for the sun to move a bit further so I might get some better shadow action. I ended up shooting his arrows imbeded in the straw target and enjoyed talking with him.
But there’s an image that stuck in my head that I wish I could somehow get. It was from earlier this week when I was in the East Phillips neighborhood. It was a group of 6 or 8 older kids hanging out. They were all huddled on a front stoop. They looked happy hanging out on this unseasonably warm day. There was something about this composition that grabbed me and has stuck with me. Something about the way they were very close to one another. I don’t know if they were close for safety, or because they liked each other, or because that was just their sense of personal space. I just wish I knew how I could bring myself to capture images like that. That’s what I want to push myself to do.