I love taking pictures…of people taking pictures. Not just anyone. People I know. It’s exciting to capture the moment of experience, the moment when someone finds something so interesting they’d like to keep it. I remember being there with them, and sneaking the pic. My family is used to it by now, so they usually wave me off when they catch me. I remain undeterred. There’s no winning without trying.
This picture taken at Big Fork in Montana is only precious to me now because I remember the people in it, and being part of that group and experiencing it together. The view attracted us to the spot, but the memories aren’t about the water, the trees, the sun, or the rocks. They’re about the people.
I also don’t need entire bodies in my pictures, as you can see from the Hollywood Star in this post. Seeing our sneakers instantly reminds me of huddling together to get our feet in the pic, the giggles, jostling, and c’mon’s that accompanied our “star” photos that day. Remembering where we were, how we felt, and what we were doing, is the best part of photos.
It’s rare, but every so often, even if we’re not in the picture I remember and appreciate it. Like when we’d spent a few days trying – and failing – to see the Hollywood sign through the fog and smog from every go-to lookout point known to man. Then my husband had the now-legendary idea of just getting in a cab and asking the driver to take us to a spot to see it, and did that ever work! We were ecstatic when it came into view. It was the hard-won victory, as much as the breathtaking scene.
I’ve had the reverse emotional experience with artwork, where I’ve arrived at a place I’d seen only in pictures. It seems surreal to be there, in it, to smell and hear and feel the wind, and know the place better. The Square of Saint Mark’s, Venice, by Canaletto was a popular work in the 1970’s. I grew up seeing reproductions of it. Standing in St. Mark’s Square on our honeymoon years later, I welled with tears, realizing that I now knew what was on the other side of that pink building if you walked to the water, knew what was on the other sides of the square, and knew how it felt to walk on the stones and dance there with a man I loved.
The pandemic offered opportunities for many amazing photographers to take pictures of what the New York Times called “The Great Empty”, allowing us to see normally crowded but now empty spaces. The pictures are at once beautiful and heartbreaking, as we see a new view of the bones of the places, but we also know the fear, grief, and anguish that forced people to stay away long enough for photographers to capture these photos.
I wonder what people will think of these empty scenes when they look back years from now. Though we are all changed forever as a result of what’s behind the photos, I hope that many will recall finding the strength they didn’t know they had, finding community in unexpected places, and helping each other through to better times. And eventually, I hope they make and remember new memories of dancing in the many squares of our world.