Friday, December 04, 2009


I had a comment on my blog today that encouraged me and which really gets at the core of why I take pictures of downtown Greensboro, or anything else for that matter. And though this comment came from "Anonymous" the person gave a valid Twitter username, so it's not totally anonymous really.

I don't repeat this comment in any spirit of self congratulation but simply because it feels good when the purpose for what I do is realized. Here is the comment:

"Anonymous said...Love the Photography!!! Makes me really proud of our downtown. I just started tweeting as GborRealPolitik. I tweeted your blog post this am, I hope you don't mind because I thought it was fabulous. I look forward to reading and viewing your work in the future."

It was the one phrase that stuck me - "makes me really proud of our downtown."

I am the first person to admit that I am at best just a decent amatuer photgrapher. I hope to get better - much better - but Ansel Adams I am not. I may have a mildly artistic bent, and yes, I do often "see" things that other people don't (no, I don't see dead people), but mainly because I'm looking and they're not. There is a way of looking that opens up the mind and heart for impressions and nuance of light, color, perspective, and composition. I hope that as I get better at photography I will be better able to capture these things.

But in the end my purpose in taking pictures is to celebrate the uniqueness and diversity of place and of life.

Buildings may not in themselves be "life" but they are given a kind of personality as it were by their designers and builders. The jumbled interplay of forms and styles in a cityscape creates fascinating impressions. And though buildings do not walk around they do change their appearance or "impression" throughout the day and throughout the seaons as light plays upon them in a multitude of ways, the "impressions" changing with the varying backdrop of cloud and sky and sun. And as one walks around in different seasons and at different times of day, always looking, there seem to be infinite combinations of viewpoints and angles. For example, from March 21 to September 21 you will never see sunlight striking the north side of a building. And only at this time of year will be noon day sun be at such a low angle.

For me, the goal of capturing as much of this as possible is that another person may smile, or as in the above comment, feel proud of his or her "place." There is no higher compliment that could be paid to me than this.

What is true of inanimate buildings is of course even more true of forests and trails and the tiny bits of "nature" inhabiting our city. Not only are there countless things to discover along a trail such as odd formations of life and ever interesting points of view, but a trail itself is in many ways a different trail depending on season and time of day. We think of different kinds of light - the slanting light of morning, the overhead light of midday, and the slanting light of afternoon. Each provides a unique impression and opens up different interactions of light and subject. Each season provides its own glory, so that, when you do the math, a trail has twelve personalities, three each day for four different seasons. Not only that but small intangibles like fog and mist and cloud give further variation within the twelve personalities. I could walk the same trail a hundred times and never run out of things to photograph.

But then, again, the point is not that someone would say, "that's a great picture" or whatever (I take enough pictures where some of them are bound to be pretty good even if by accident). The real reward is when, like the person who commented above, someone feels blessed, proud of being a part of such a world as this and community as this, thankful for the people who helped make such views possibile, and thankful to the author of such beauty.

And for me it's not just beauty but even decay in a strange way that I celebrate. Early this week I drove back from Columbia the "back way," taking secondary (and tertiary) roads, going through small towns and seeing many many abandoned and decrepit old buildings and homes. What interests me about these old structures are the stories behind them, the histories of the communities, the reasons why people came there in the first place and why they left. Every abandoned old building was once a person's business, a person's dream, a place where they invested their fortune and their sweat. More often than not there was a time of properity for that business, and I imagine all the people who came and went and worked and shared stories with each other. It's the story of people and their lives that fills me with a sense of wonder and respect walking around an old abandoned filling station with a faded out Esso sign still dangling from a pole.

I think the same way about our own Lee Street. Yes, I'd like to see Lee Street cleaned up, but I also am fascinated by all the stories locked up in those old buildings hugging the sidewalk between Elm and the Coliseum.

Anyway, it's a nice feeling when the purpose of what you're doing seems realized even in a small degree. It inspires me to get better so as to bring more blessing and to make more poeple proud of the community and the world that they live in.

One final note: as I write this it dawns on my how much I have been impacted by my literary hero, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Thanks Gerard.


jhs said...

Always nice to get feedback. See you.

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