…but at first, I didn’t really even think I was going to touch this shot. The raw, unedited picture (which I can’t be bothered to post on here because it’s on my laptop, which is all the way downstairs, and I don’t really want to leave my computer chair right now :p) was completely washed out, slightly more tilted, and the highlights were blown to hell. Wasn’t really an obvious keeper in a day that was full of some other really nice portrait shots taken with my snazzy 50mm f1.8 lens.
Actually, I think I was just trailing behind at the end of our hike back down from the peak of the Stairway To Heaven in Vernon, my tiny kit 16-50mm screwed onto my Sony, just randomly snapping pictures out of slight exhaustion when I got this.
Not exactly an honest shot – the sky was starting to unfold from an otherwise dreary and overcast day in these light pinks and oranges, but nothing as cinematically sepia as this – but I like what came of trying to make something out of a picture that I normally would have tossed.
There’s an argument floating around out there that doing photography for the sake of memory tends to cheapen the moment. That going through the motions of dressing up an image with fancy editing tricks and going out of your way to shoot photos in these moments detracts from the very act of being there. Far be it from me to argue. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, right?
Everyone’s got their own way to try and make a moment immortal. Everyone’s got their own way to respect how short this all is.
I find myself going into my old folders a lot for content to put up on this blog – stuff that never really made it onto my Instagram page because of some minor itch I had about the lighting, or composition, or something like that. But I like putting them up here because those pictures, albeit less measured than my Insta posts, often have a lot more narrative breathing inside the frame – and I’d hate for that to be missed.
There’s a subtle romanticism to a moment frozen in time that sometimes gets lost in the process of editing, tweaking, and molding an image to a more refined picture. In trying to wage war against blown highlights and shadows as consuming as the damn abyss, you miss the lift of her hair on that late winter evening. The snow dusting flecks on her skin. The tiniest of smiles as she squints through the viewfinder. The fingers entwined on the car ride home.
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.
It’s one of the nicknames that the city of Montreal can call its own. But for me, at least, the nickname and the place don’t make an immediate connection. I’m from the glorious tristate – where you find your way to the best known places by moving along the chain links of stopover towns, one after the next. “Metropolis” means bustle – its the body formed by the layer of skyscraper tops that doesn’t seem to notice the man slinging hotdogs at the corner. It’s the audible heartbeat of a city without silence – every moment punctuated by pulses that sound different than the last. It’s New York in all of its simultaneously sleek and grimy splendor. It’s something I know.
But Montreal is not New York.
I mean sure, if someone flew you over blindfolded, struck you deaf to block out the French, hid all the obvious signs of nationality, and spun you around three times for good measure, I’m sure there are a decent number of places in the city that are almost indistinguishable from the stretches in midtown. That’s one of the things that I love about the urban environment, after all – the almost-always-present sense of familiarity, despite place, despite space, despite time of day. But there’s something about Montreal that’s just unique, and I wish I could verbalize it for you. It’s this sense of magic that boils up inside me when I step over the street that divides Old Montreal from the rest of the city – leaving the asphalt and sidewalk for cobblestone corridors.
There’s something about the Old Town – something about the Old Port that agh I just…
You emerge from the sprawl – from a place where the name “Metropolis” makes sense – and the first thing that strikes you is the narrow. Not the narrow _____, just the narrow of it all. Cars can’t come here – there are posts holding them at bay, jutting from the smooth stones, making sure that the space is safe for the people milling back and forth in the collective shadows of old taverns, shops, the looming church. Progress has and hasn’t happened here – it has sort of bled into the pages, but frozen halfway – caught in the space between, the pause – like the buildings, like the people, like you. You’re lost.
And then, you step out into the air. You’re at the port. The ships have pulled away.