Who would have thought I’d end up being on here less once the semester started? 🙂
Hope you’re all not terribly mad at me. I’m settled back into the swing of things after getting a new camera, heading off to Key West for the holiday with my family, and enjoying the sheer amount of free time that gets dumped on you once college lets out for a month. Expect more photos, more blogs, and more video in the weeks to come!
I’ve got this professor that’s constantly quoting this one poem by Wislawa Syzmborska – “Nothing Twice”.
The professor’s a brilliant guy, but for some reason the first few lines resonate with me a whole lot more than the things he actually says. What that says about my academic information retention, I don’t know, but here they are –
It’s an interesting experience – going back to the first photo you took with photography as the intent.
This was right around the time we were filming the old Winter In Piscataway video. I didn’t even have a DSLR yet, and I was trailing around while Patrick was shooting video on his old Nikon. I had an iPhone out, and I was shooting with it in portrait instead of landscape, genius that I was.
Snow started falling early that December. There was already a nice blanket going by the time we hopped out of my car, trudging through the powder in jeans and work boots.
I remember wanting to catch the snow in the light. I remember wanting to remember how it felt.
With all the talking that I do about storytelling and how much it bleeds into every medium I work with, you’d figure that I’ve had that as my goal for the entire time I’ve been doing photography. Truth is, it really wasn’t always the case. I actually wanted to work exclusively with street photography for a while, and spent a lot of time in the city trying to pull that off. Of course, if you look at my Instagram (shamelessplugshamelessplugshamelessplug), you wouldn’t really be able to tell that – there’s not a lot of street on there at all.
That isn’t to say that I don’t like street photo – I think it’s great. It’s something that storytelling is involved with, but in a different sense than what I try to pull off in my photos. Where I can, I try to create a bit of a “hard narrative” with my work. There’s got to be some kind of visible story in play, whether it’s implicit or explicit, and more often than not, it’s down to me to sort of make one. That isn’t to say the moments and memories in my photos are fabricated – it’s just that I’m almost always wholly entwined into the narrative, and I’m trying to bring it out with the editing, or the shot composition, or the people, or the objects, or the setting.
You don’t have that much control in street photography because you often hold the place of an observer, not an active participant. When you start out, you quickly realize that a big portion of your success while you’re out there shooting falls to whether or not you come across something cool while you’re wandering around in the city – not to mention the absolute necessity that you get your camera up in time to catch it.
And after another while, you start to figure out fast that just whipping your camera out and shooting pictures indiscriminately into people-dense spots in the city isn’t really going to cut it either. The shots can be solid, but more often than not, you end up with something that feels a little hollow – snippets of the very end of moments you catch by chance, looking past the shoulder of the stranger walking in front of you.
Again, this absolutely isn’t to diminish what street photographers pull off. Their pictures are really what drew me towards the medium to begin with. It takes a sniper’s eye, quick hands, quicker creative chops, and a solid understanding of your hardware and software to do this well, and it’s still something I dabble in whenever I find myself tromping around downtown NYC or Hoboken. But it’s definitely not what I love shooting the most, you know? Maybe I’m a control freak, maybe I’m too attached to the hopeless personal nostalgia that I get out of looking back through my shots, maybe I’m not just built for it.
But I have to admit, it does get pretty addicting sometimes.
The pond sits almost at the very edge of my home town of Piscataway – just two or three minutes down New Market Road and you’ve already hit Dunellen. From there, you can buy a $20 something round trip to New York Penn, leave the suburbs in your bellowing wake, and lose the night wandering around after a few hours at that nice Japanese bar in the East Village. In that time, it’s easy to forget the small things your shabby stopover town has to offer.
So today, let’s forego the $20 something train ticket. Save it for a fast lunch later down this week. Park the car by the precarious intersection where the train whistles never stop blowing and the pigeons come to roost. Stay in town for the night.
Venture a bit closer waterside and you’ll notice all the signs warning you not to eat the fish – all sized small enough to remain unsettlingly vague as to why the hell not. The stories vary around town. Decades of pollution. Toxic runoff. Mutant pond sharks. The list goes on, I’m sure. Still, you’ll find no shortage of fisherfolk present on any given day – playing catch and release with the poor irradiated swimmers.
The water itself has two outfits. The first is for when it feels like looking young again – showing off that glistening, reflective veneer painted the color of whatever brilliant sky is hanging overhead that day. Check the prom photos taken there – you’ll see it showing off. The second is for sweatpant days, where it’s not as concerned, and sees no need to hide the teeming layers of pond scum floating in a green blanket on its face. The latter of the two is a bit more honest – the rotten core has just risen to the surface for the world to see.
From what I’ve heard, though, the sordid nature of this patch of pondwater is something that’s just happened with age. I used to have a physics teacher back in high school that always used to talk about when people could swim at New Market – back when they grew corn where the elementary school was, and the concrete wasn’t slowly anaconda-ing all the green. Can’t even imagine wading in there now. Might end up like one of those old cartoons – resurface after waddling waist deep with my ribcage and hipbones showing, either from acid water or piranhas.
But before you tell me to fuck off and drive to Dunellen for that train ticket, step back into last night with me. It’s 8 PM, and we’re sitting on the next gazebo down on the water, the one that juts out and wiggles and bobs when someone’s kid jumps up and down on the newly painted wooden planks. The sky is this brilliant lavender fire as the sun bows out slowly, the feisty 90 degree day ebbing out into the cool curtain of dusk. It’s a paintbrush that streaks the water. Even being there doesn’t do it justice. There are people sitting behind the railing from us, chatting in some other language, their laughter lifting into the air – carried away by a breeze that ripples the mirror – brushes the fountain. There’s a concert playing on the main gazebo. You can hear them from where we are.
They’re covering Marley.
You’re sitting there, smiling, in the town that’s seen more than a decade and a half of your life. The dirt is nowhere that matters.