Friday, January 29, 2010

Street Photography

When visiting a museum of sorts, a public place where craftsmen and women were demonstrating their skills, I became aware that a man had snapped a close picture of me with his camera while I was absorbed in watching a potter shaping a piece of clay on the wheel. I was hit with a great deal of ambivalence and trepidation about this, and just a bit annoyed
at the intrusion of my personal space and privacy. Not being much of a narcissist, I immediately suspected the worst and resented being the subject of an unguarded moment that could turn up God knows where on the Internet and perhaps totally out of context. When I find myself caught off guard, I greatly censor my reactions and usually end up a coward by not reacting at all. I had my own camera and engaged in a bit of dueling cameras that I have often done before with friends while we were just having fun. Later, after much contemplation, and a lot of research, I converted from feeling like a victim to being an advocate of candid street photography. There are several good books that give not only technical details of cameras and photography, but also philosophy of social documentary through candid street photography.

Book covers by

Thank God, I'm not famous, or I would have been challenging what I perceived as a paparazzo that needed to learn some manners. My problem with my encounter with a street photographer was his approach or technique, I later learned. He wasn't taking a lot of pictures and I would have been really alarmed except that he was with his family. I learned that in order to be a good street photographer, one needs to take a lot of photos in public places so that people don't react negatively as I had. Also, I learned that if one smiles and tries to pretend to just be part of the action rather than an observer, the photos can be even better. It is reputed to be very difficult to find those rare gems of photos that turn into art so we have to take numerous photos to find something great like the famous photo of the sailor kissing the nurse after WWII in the street, and which appeared in Life Magazine of yesteryear. I always loved that magazine because the photos were incredibly insightful, and captured such profound statements of life and people.

When I look through pictures I have taken, I find that too many are posed which seems to be a no no in the world of street photography. Also too many of my street scene pictures have been taken with as few people included as possible in order to see the street buildings or monuments. Now I capture everything, to include the people and let the street and buildings or monuments sit in the background. It is the candid activity of the people within the context of the street that makes the photo interesting.

There is always the dilemma or danger of being misunderstood when doing street photography and looking for great candid moments when people are relaxed, unguarded and their emotions at the surface. If you stop to ask a person's permission to take a photo, the moment is over. Many devotees of the street photographic technique claim if it is a public place, people ar
e fair game. I don't want to be perceived as a deviant, or a would-be terrorist, so I take lots of pictures, smile, and try not alarm people. I am always cautious about taking pictures of kids I don't know, so I smile at parents and compliment the kids as cute, but after I have already taken the picture. Ladies have more leeway on that one than a guy with a camera taking pictures of little kids. Parents can become very alarmed and protective. Also, a word of caution, not all people being photographed are as reluctant to react as I, and some may become very hostile. That is the stuff of which fiction is made, and the witness protection program probably has a few amateur photographers. I don't know what I would do if someone demanded the card from the camera or called the police. To avoid confrontations, it's good to take photos in a very open, public place where many people also have cameras.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Grandchildren have always been on my list of things in life that it would be nice to experience, but I don't recall wishing for grandchildren as much as I have found that I enjoy my grandchildren. When my friends began talking about how much they enjoy their grandchildren before I had grandchildren, it was easy to think, "That's nice, but I don't have any, and I don't relate to that." I wasn't envious, but I had not realized how wonderful your own grandchildren can be. I always try not to over-enthuse about the grandchildren, but some moments are treasures to remember forever.

I once said to my adult son that I don't need presents for my birthday--I only need your presence. For my last birthday, we went to dinner with our son, his wife, their four-year-old, and their one-year-old. Small children can get restless in a restaurant so we knew our time was limited. The staff rushed to serve us so we wouldn't overstay our welcome and distress their other diners. I ate quickly while my grandson munched his Cheerios and the busy day caught up with him quickly. To give Mom and Dad a quick break and a peaceful meal, I gathered up my one-year-old grandson and walked him to a quiet back corner of the restaurant. He has a habit of falling asleep on his daddy's "magic shoulder" so I wanted to chance grandma's magic shoulder. It only took a little swaying and humming to put him to sleep. There's nothing quite as neat as cuddling a sleeping infant. To hold him and to let him sleep on my shoulder was the best birthday gift I could ever have.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Virtual Life

That's not to be confused with a virtuous life. A virtual life in this case refers to the world found online. In the world of My Space, Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, Blogging, free-for-all, knock down, drag out Forums, one can begin to live life by entering a fantasy land of the imagination but my real name isn't Alice. Where does social networking end and fantasy begin? The line blurs quite often. Who can nurture two thousand friendships? Just asking. People do whatever they do for a variety of reasons so to be hands off, nonjudgmental about it, whatever their motivations, long live the Internet and information "sharing."

As a voracious reader, I inhale the printed word whether it is on old-fashioned paper books, newspapers, or magazines, an e-reader, a cell phone, a TV screen, or a computer screen. Aren't we all a little like the robot, Number 5 in the movie Short Circuit who repeats, "Input, I need input!" Shameless voyeurism perhaps, more likely a twenty-first century information junkie. No apologies from this corner or that fragment--creative license. Those of us who engage in this fire hose of verbal cacophony know to come armed with the audacity of a waterboarding agent.

Ultimately, when entering the virtual world, I wonder, "What's in it for me?" Entertainment or the opportunity to rearrange a few synapses is a goal to which I can relate. It is fascinating to learn that natural vanilla comes from the bean of two orchid species. That trivia might be needed for an online crossword puzzle. Money might be a goal for a few folks--more power to you. Social networking from a keyboard seems a little too sanitary for me, and I find it hard to trust what's on my computer screen. It's a marvel that folks would put their real names online, or maybe that is just an illusion. "All the world's a stage," and we are all nom de plume. E-mail with established friends is convenient and great to maintain long distance friendships because it is easy to imagine their facial expressions and the tone of their voices. Lacking those very important features of communication, relating to others online in places like a forum, or a blog seems to be like "Number 5 is Alive" and minus a few senses!

Jump in, the water's fine. Like real life, the virtual life has swimming pools, hot tubs, reflecting pools, whirlpools, cesspools, quicksand, swamps, etc., etc. For me, the virtual life is a warm sea with waves of entertainment best taken with a grain of salt.

Friday, January 8, 2010


In addition to overusing the word "whatever," I often find myself promising that things will be perfect "in my next life." I've been known to say, "In my next life, I will be tall." Maybe I should be more specific and say "In my next life, I will be 5'8" tall. I wouldn't want to become seven feet tall in my next life.

Sometimes when I become frustrated with my hair, I say, "In my next life, I will have beautiful hair." My hair is one of the great disappointments of this life, so I swear my gene pool will produce better results in another life because it can't get much worse than current circumstances.

When I can't remember the name of a movie I saw thirty years ago, I get annoyed and say, "In my next life, I will be a genius." On second thought, maybe that wouldn't be such a good idea. Sometimes genius and insanity are twins.

The law of unintended consequences always rears its ugly head and makes me suspect that wishing for things to be different could result in a whole host of undesired circumstances. "Better the devil you know" comes to mind.

When feeling powerless, it is comforting to be able to promise myself that it could all be different and much better "In my next life."

According to all accounts, John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens while we are making other plans." Perhaps that speaks to many people; I can certainly relate. I wouldn't want to make some things perfect "in my next life" if that meant that all the things I appreciate about this life were also changed. I wouldn't want to give up the wonderful things I enjoy about this life so I should just stop planning "my next life" and appreciate the one I have.