Dave + Mary

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A little over a month ago I had the opportunity to get together with one of my best friends and his best friend to share an afternoon commemorating (if belatedly and unofficially) the fact that he had asked her to marry him — and she had said yes. The first time I met Mary, incidentally, was mere hours after Dave had proposed. “Hi, I’m Mary…” she beamed, and as I reached to shake her hand, she showed me the other one, one finger brightly ringed, adding, “…Dave’s fiancée.”

Time passed, and as the wedding plans fell together Dave asked if I wouldn’t mind breaking my de facto retirement and taking some pre-wedding pictures of the two of them. Weather threatened to upset us, as did my being under the weather, but our last chance finally came and wouldn’t you know, it was a pretty beautiful afternoon. Windy as all get-out, and cloudy at times (which played havoc with my rusty ISO-adjusting skills), but beautiful nonetheless. And so we set out down the abandoned train tracks behind the Lates home, my hands occupied with my camera bag, their hands occupied with each others’.

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We decided early on to avoid, as much as possible, being terribly cliché. There were some things which just wouldn’t work with these two, you know?

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…yeah.

I made it clear up front: I don’t really know what I’m doing. If I try to manufacture anything it’ll look forced. Just act like I’m not here. Easier said than done, of course. But so it went, and I’d like to think they’ll be happy with at least a few of ’em. We tried a variety of locations, and the common theme seemed to be trees:

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…trees standing over lakes…

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…trees on their sides…

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…trees turned to railroad ties.

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There was a little obligatory ring-gazing…

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…but only a little.

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Over the course of the “shoot,” if you can call it that, we put together a couple brief narratives through sequential shots.

The first was the closest I came to trying to make something metaphorical of our environment. Stumbling through life, most of us wish we had a helping hand, a little stability to help us when balancing everything becomes tricky. Support:

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Of course, like I said, we were out on abandoned train tracks. Somewhere along the tracks an impotent sign ordered us away, leaving its jurisdiction and enforceability to the imagination. And to think, had we listened, none of these pictures would exist. Dave & Mary showed the sign what they thought of being told No Trespassing:

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At some point I jokingly reminded them to act naturally. “I mean, honestly, if I weren’t here, would you really spend half the time just silently staring lovingly into one another’s eyes?”

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“Actually, yes.”

And that was the truth of it. Uninterrupted by my suggestions and occasional directions, they spent a lot of time just looking really happy to be together. And it was beautiful. Humbling. I know I’m sort of expected to say it was an honor to be invited to be part of this, to be asked to, but I say that — that it was an honor — not out of a sense of obligation but rather unbridled honesty. Dave, Mary: thank you. I’m truly honored to have been asked along to share in your afternoon.

(now go check out all the pictures here ^_^)

L’écureuil

Occasionally when our family is too lazy to properly remove trash bags from the kitchen to the garage, we’ll toss the bag out on the back deck where it remains until the next trip to the local transfer station. Usually these bags remain unmolested, but as winter draws nigh and food becomes scarce the animals have become a little more audacious. Particularly the squirrels.

A couple days ago I looked outside and noticed several squirrels doing their best to move a bag ten times their size. They neatly picked it apart, and began to retrieve old pieces of bread from it. That’s all they wanted: bread. In an effort to minimize cleanup I threw some old popcorn out to them, but it wasn’t long before they’d sniffed at the yellow clusters and unpopped kernels, shrugged (okay maybe not), and returned to tearing up the garbage.

Later that day the trash was cleaned up and removed, but I’d so enjoyed watching them out there that I went ahead and gathered all the old and unwanted cereal in our cabinets and poured them into a container, from which I have been distributing daily portions onto the deck in hopes of catching them on film. Today I succeeded. I only took a handful of shots (because frankly there are only so many ways to take a picture through a window), but I figured I’d share them.

Planning his next move…
Old Cap’n Crunch seems to be the favorite.
Their paws are rather extraordinary to look at.

Anyhow, I’d about given up on anything more interesting, when the squirrel made its way right up near the sliding glass door. I cautiously moved to the floor to get a close-up, but was dismayed to discover that (likely due to my dog) it wasn’t clean. The couple images I got were too blurred to be worth posting. I shifted over to another, clearer panel, but he’d already worked his way back toward the deck and his back was to me. So I tapped the glass, thinking maybe, just maybe, he’d come back. He didn’t run. He didn’t even stop eating. All he did was throw me a glance over his shoulder.

By far, one of my favorite photos.

Eventually, the squirrel left. A couple more came by, and every so often they’d take a peek inside the house. They’ve been doing this for awhile now, at the back window, the front storm door, and yesterday there were even a few clamoring on the skylight. I’ve yet to get the exact image I’m hoping for, but here’s an example of one of the little guys looking in:

And what with the snow, I’m tempted to open the door.

Anyhow, I’ll post any future photos to Facebook, but I thought perhaps someone out there would get a kick out of these guys. Most people give very little thought to squirrels because they’re ubiquitous, but I never cease to be fascinated by them.

I leave you with this parting image of my dog, who sits really weirdly:

No but really, those hind legs.

Friends & Ghosts

 

“It is only later, when we look back over our lives, that we are confronted with the terrible reality of what we have done, which is not to have captured our loved ones, but to have rendered with permanence their position in our lives as having been, but also as being no more.”
~Lying to Tell the Truth (Adam Bogert, May 2011)

This weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the wedding of two beautiful friends in southern New Jersey. Hard on financial luck as of late, my gift to the new couple was to be a photo booth of sorts at the reception — a camera, a tripod, a picturesque lakeside backdrop, and a willingness to refrain from socializing in the main events until after dinner. I was more than happy to oblige.

Weddings tend to reunite friends and acquaintances who have been out of touch for months, years (and, I doubt not, decades for the older set). It’s an odd sensation, that unfamiliar familiarity, the uncanny “i know you, but we don’t know each other at all.” Perhaps it’d be better were we enemies, because then our relationship would be more clearly defined than “we’ll get along quite well today, but tomorrow recommences our complete lack of communication. We move in different spheres.”

Sad, but not terribly; after all, it’s a wedding: joy abounds.

Later, though, I had the job of remembering, as I pieced together the album and decided how best to make it available to the people in it. I opted for Facebook, and over the next couple days the various forms of acknowledgment began to pour in. People would comment delightedly on this or that picture, and Facebook would nicely tell me how they’d gotten there: friends with the bride, friends with the groom; mutual friends through some other attendee.

And I noticed, of course, a few friends who were mutual but not personal; names which once graced my own list but had since (and this was news) departed.

I guess it’s just an odd feeling, finding out after the fact that someone isn’t your friend anymore — it makes no sense outside of the confines of a digital farce. You can’t just misplace relationships. A person whose departure from your life you didn’t mark well is a person who really wasn’t in your life to begin with. They may not be your friend anymore, but then they never were. It makes one wonder: how many of my current friends, well, aren’t?

A consequence of my decision to use Facebook for sharing my photos was the haphazard “launch” of a heretofore stagnating official photography page, and I’ve been spending the beginning of this week playing catch-up: researching prices, polishing mission statements and services, and — most importantly — pulling together a portfolio from the scores of thousands of photos I’ve taken for the last five years.

And that’s where I found the ghosts.

How many relationships did I document the rise and fall of without knowing it? How many couples did I capture in love, only to look back at them and realize they’re no longer together? How many friends were in my inner circle, only to drift to the outskirts of memory in coming years? How many names can’t I remember? How many don’t I want to?

I discovered yesterday the true weight of what I wrote last year in a late-term rush of enthusiastic writing, the validity of an analysis that, then, was almost distant and pedantic. What I called a “terrible reality” truly is terrible, worse than I might have guessed, compacted by a year of emptiness which made the fullness of the past I’ve lost all the more terrible.

To review a single play hurts a little bit. To review them all was a task I found myself almost incapable of handling. Such, I suppose, is the cost of emotional investment in anything. If nothing else I can be certain that I truly loved what I was doing at Grove City for those four years; pain like this can’t be generated by disinterested participation.

What really hurt, though, was trying to be objective; discerning between images that resonated with me and ones which actually showcased specific aptitude in my craft. Portfolio assembly has a lot less to do with quality (for most published images of mine have reached at least a decent standard of that) than originality, personality — not simply my ability to capture moments, but to know which ones are worth capturing.

My theatre photography in particular functioned more as a disjointed cinematography, the capturing of as many moments as possible. The 2500 images of Carnival remain unsorted and largely unpublished, but I have no doubt that, if properly arranged, I could literally recreate the entire musical in silent flip-book form. I say that not with awe but with shame — though it served my purposes (to ensure that anyone involved would have at least some pictures which showcased them specifically), I feel like in that one moment of runaway enthusiasm I undermined the very essence of what being a photographer is.

A recent (in)famous commencement speech notes that if everyone is special, then no one is — and when you’ve captured every moment of a show, you’ve equalized it. No wonder I struggled so much to pick shots out for publication; I missed the point. A tough lesson, but one I’m glad I’ve come to recognize for what it is, a cautionary tale against ever doing that again.

Nevertheless, I’ve finished: I’ve fought my way through the barrows of my past, confronted some ghosts, and come out the other side with (I hope) enough gems to satisfy the needs of future photographic endeavors. More importantly, I’ve come out with a fresher appreciation for the friends who aren’t ghosts — whose images don’t haunt me because they’re still part of my life — and for the power of the dramas past and present that constitute our lives.

Sheet Zoo

It’s no secret that I’m not fond of my dog. He defies just about every expectation engendered by the word “pet,” and has contributed greatly to the stress of every person who enters our house, especially we who live here.

But in between daydreams about chocolate poisoning and runaway mail trucks, I occasionally appreciate Bailey. As he’s gotten older, he’s gotten mellower, and these days he’s frequently a bit of a dope. Yesterday I was standing in the kitchen talking with my mother when she asked me to look outside to see if he had slipped out on the back deck. I didn’t even have to move, because, rather hilariously, he was sitting on one of the deck chairs around the outdoor table, staring at us.

Evidently, getting into the chair (despite its not being pulled back) had been the easy part. Now that he was there, however, he hadn’t the foggiest how to get back down. So he was just sitting there, patiently, hoping that we might save him. And I did. But not before grabbing my camera.

It turned out to be a rather glorious afternoon and so I spent the next half-hour or so reclining on the deck and reading news on my phone while sometimes trying to snag a picture of him after he planted himself firmly on top of me. Granted, I had little control over the situation as I was beneath him, so my angles were limited. Moreover Bailey has no interest in responding to the calling of his name, so getting him to face me proved mostly impossible. Still, I managed a few, so I thought I’d share them.

Later in the evening as the family gathered around their electronic devices of choice, Bailey felt inclined to join my sister in her browsing. I’ve done my best to account for the poor lighting in our living room, but this seemed like one more shot worth sharing.

Now some of you will still wonder how on earth I dislike my dog, so I’ll end this random post with an anecdote. Yesterday, as I was wrapping up lunch, Bailey wandered into the kitchen and strolled past me. A few moments later, I heard an unmistakable sound and, sure enough, when I turned around he was standing in the middle of the floor and nonchalantly peeing. This without even the slightest indication that he’d rather (or even willingly) do that outside of the house. None of the usual whining, pawing, scratching, barking. Nope. He just let loose right in front of me. And at some point, about halfway through, he casually turned his head and stared directly at me, blinked a few times, and looked away. As if to say, “you mad bro?”