September 25, 2007 by Allen George
Eyes on the Street
I want to start with photos from “Eyes on the Street”. It’s my latest set, and illustrative of how I’m trying to see the world.
So, what do I think? Well, if I defined success as supporting the subject, then my efforts lack visual complexity; if I defined it as inviting closeness, then it is distant. It’s as if things are slightly askew – that though there are many parts they do not work together, and cannot work together.
Great one-liners, weak glue – I face it while writing and it’s the same with photographing. Out there I’m a reductionist and my vision narrows; I notice only the subject to the exclusion of all else. It takes consciousness to acknowledge and arrange the other scenic elements, and I often misjudge their impact. Before, I took the easy way out, choosing focal length and framing to mirror my tunnel world – perhaps the results were too disconnected. Now, as I shift, the world is no longer moldable and I struggle for footing.
Other choices exacerbate this imbalance. My 35mm AOV, so perfect for cramped indoor quarters, is too expansive outside. Things, people, light – they flood the frame, packing it like frosh in Fed Hall on Thursday nights; it means I have to get closer. But I freeze. I shuffle, dancing in a narrow box; maybe if I’m economical with my actions eyes will only graze me, so I make few bold moves to different viewpoints. I’m a diner who finding one dish he likes orders it ad nauseam, staying for fear of disappointment, derision or lack of imagination.
Can you grow without doing? What if growing requires not one, but two or even three different focuses? Take the “photo-evaluate-learn” cycle: you go out, photograph; return to evaluate your technique and style – try to find those times, feelings and approaches that worked, while naming those that didn’t; then, learning – not only looking at photographs and expanding your visual dictionary, but living, growing the space you can explore. And you do it all again.
But where’s the balance? How do you know if you’ve found it? How? Don’t you crave the aliveness in doing? Isn’t it so easy to favor the act itself – with every click you’ve another artifact, tangible proof of acting. After all, where’s the immediate payback in evaluating your missteps, for those sessions filled with “No” and “Not quite” and “Not that one”? And what about the time taken in looking and being – is it well-spent or wasted? Tell me, tell me how do you measure, how do you feel growth?
And what, can I grow without completing photographs? There are too many visions in my head, a spaghetti-mess of projects and individual images; they each have beauty in the possible and their collected mass has presence; it is a hand weighing on my chest, and I cannot breathe, I cannot breathe.
Do I leave them half-done because I am lazy, because I have no time, or because summer, not winter, is when I photograph the most? Or because I fear the pain in that void between what “could be” and what “is”.
Yes, fear – a constant presence. I have fears – I have a fear of people. Not a debilitating one, for I go to university daily, sit in my third of an office and pass the faces in SLC… But when I’m out there photographing, you’re no longer moving wallpaper – you see, judge, react – and I am a marked man; I am suddenly very exposed. Why?
Of course, I am an observer. I am simultaneously of – yet disconnected from – people and I feel it, feel it like an ache in my wrist that never quite goes away. And so I watch from a distance. But when I pick up my camera, walk among you and raise it, I am no longer unseen. With my cyclopean eye I am suddenly there, suddenly distinguishable in the moment. Hundreds of unseen maybe-eyes maybe-watching, and the observer is now the observed. This is self-consciousness.
Obviously it isn’t so – “We worry about how we look and act, not others,” I tell myself. But it doesn’t help. And it bleeds into that moment when I’m there and my finger stabs the shutter button, and I’m nervous and I wonder if people wonder and I leave and I leave faster than I should.
I want that moment – I want all of it. I want to fall into the frame like there’s nothing but me, that rectangle of light and the few joints that’ll capture it. I want it all and I can’t have it. I can’t have it.
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