Sunday, July 25, 2010
El Paso Street Photography: How photos may rob our souls.
Sasha and I decided to stay in El Paso for the summer, here on the writer’s block.
We had never done this before, at least not the entire summer, and we soon found that anyone who says there’s nothing to do in El Paso hasn’t been paying attention.
There’s so much going on during the summer we sometimes have to decide among festivals, concerts, offbeat church bazaars, craft markets.
At home Sasha started a garden on the balcony of our second story apartment.
She grows squash and basil and so many tomatoes we can't eat them all.
While Sasha grows vegetables, I have been taking pictures, hundreds of them, which is easy to do with digital photography.
I find I'm attracted to what I guess is called Street photography, random shots of city life.
Here's some shots I took at the Texas Tattoo Showdown.
You can click on any image to make it bigger.
A beautiful El Paso family.
But I also like driving east of the city on Montana with my friend Moses, where we take pictures of stuff, whatever strikes us, for whatever reason.
I like photos of people, especially when the image seems to capture something about the person.
"Cigarette and Lollipop."
"Yes, My butt!"
We have all heard the movie cliche wherein a native from Africa or South America doesn't want their photos taken, because they feel it steals their souls, and although the idea is supposed to make so-called advanced peoples scoff at native beliefs, there might be some truth to the idea.
Maybe not so much for the person in the photo, but for the photographer.
Photographers take photos for the same reason poets write poetry.
We can articulate many reasons one strives to capture an image, and one of those reasons is to say that the desire to create, the creative impulse to snap each shot or to write a poem or even to bake bread or grow vegetables in your own garden is the same impulse that connects us with the divinity, with the Creator.
We are co-creators, created in God's image. We are created to be creators, even when it comes to reality.
Matter, we know,is empty space, and it requires our consciousness to see what's there, to call a thing a thing.
Maybe if we take photos but they are trapped, stored, hoarded in the nano world, they are not able to release what energy created them, our divinity, the higher part of our souls, so a part of our spirits are trapped in storage too.
Yes, it’s good photographic sense to shoot as many pictures as possible, and as writers (that is, artists), we create and uncover imagery, but it may not be healthy on any level to collect too many of them.
It’s not like in the old days when a photo album, even several of them, contained the images that would become important in our lives.
When I was a kid, my father was a serious amateur photographer, and he took pictures with expensive cameras, which had 24 or so exposures to each roll of film, and he developed them in the darkroom he built in our garage.
I remember the smell of the chemicals, and how he hung the dripping photo paper on twine with metal clamps, and we would watch the white face of paper slowly turn into a recognizable image, my mother posing in a dress under a tree, me and my brother holding toy guns and shooting at the camera.
Millions of people keep images in their cameras, their computers, their phones, their ipods, millions and millions of images out there, and although each person that stores them might like to believe that someday they or their heirs might go through the storage disks and view each and every photo and extract some important ones, there are far too many images suffering eternal darkness for anyone to have the time to go through and evaluate each one.
Maybe it’s best to delete the majority of the photos we take, not only for our soul's sake (I'm still not sure how I feel about that idea), but also because throwing away hundreds of images causes us to value the ones that we do keep.
We tend to collect so many things in our homes that we don't value what we have, we lament what we don't have. We store stuff in boxes, in garages and attics, and some of us have so much stuff we pay extra money each month to keep the things in storage spaces.
Coming from such a generation, our temptation to collect images makes sense.
But I don’t want to be a collector of images.
And although it’s hard to decide what to give up, it seems like a good discipline to let go of things, in this case, to literally let go of images.
It's a good way to practice detachment.
This photo hobby is quite recent for me, so I'm thinking about all this stuff as I go out and take pictures.
But I seem to be evolving two criteria by which I'll save a photo.
One: I review the photos I take the same way I walk through a museum.
I walk through pretty quickly , feeling no obligation to stand before paintings for any reason other than they strike me, and I want to get a longer, closer look at the work.
When I walked through the MoMA in New York, I spent a lot of time standing before Motherwell’s Elegy, mesmerized by the energy pulsing from the black trinity of oval shapes.
Images that didn’t strike me I let blur by.
When I’m viewing the pictures I have taken, I go through them quickly, but if one grabs my attention I stop and look at it.
That’s a finalist.
"El Tweety Tambien"
The second way I decide which ones to keep is if a title for the image comes easy, or to put it another, perhaps crazier way, if a voice says something to me.
This one for example.
When I saw it I thought “Mi Familia Por vida," which is what the tattoo says on the guy's head.
Here’s a cheesy photo-shopped version, getting rid of the noise in the background and replacing it with an even more cheesy background.
Is “photo-shop” a verb?
One says a picture was or is photo-shopped, yes?
Even when another program is used? It’s like saying give me a Band aid or a Coke, when we mean a plaster or a cola.
I’m still not sure where I stand on the seeming controversy among photographers about the value of photo-shopping. Some seem to believe that a photo should appear as it was taken, because to photo-shop it means you can make a great image out of anything.
I’m not sure if I agree, maybe because to me the process of editing photos has always been a part of what I know as photography, but I don’t disagree either. I have yet to take a position. Maybe I never will, but will admire both and practice both approach.
I wonder how poets would feel about running every poem they have written through an advanced computer program that identifies and intensifies metaphors and rhythmic linguistic patterns?
If it could improve the poem, would it lessen its value?
Okay, that's already several photos I've saved from our summer in El Paso thus far.
There's still a bit over a month to go before classes start at UTEP.
If I believe what I say above, all that pontificating pomp about detachment, I better delete the rest.
I'm glad we decided to stay in the city for the summer.
Kafka and Joey seem pretty happy about it.
You can see these and a few more by clicking here.
Ay te watcho!