Photography musings

Diane Arbus subjects in the Washington Post

I think it’s interesting that they’ve found some of her subjects. The idea of Anderson Cooper as a baby death mask is kind of funny.

I’ve been in at least one photograph taken by a random person walking past me, and a bunch of candids by my paparazzi family and friends. I also tend to take photographs of interesting strangers. I’ve had mixed feelings about being a photograph’s subject many times, posed or not. There’s the, it-hurts-to-smile-after-six-cameras-taking-the-same-shot feeling, the smile-in-front-of-famous-sight-shot (kind of disturbing when I was in New York and seeing tourists by the hole left by the World Trade Center where thousands of people died), and the I-can’t-believe-you’re-taking-this-picture sort of shot with it’s barely tolerant gaze. I don’t really like to look at photos of myself– tend to find them embarrassing. One of my cousins told me he hates getting his picture taken–“It’s so fake,” he said with an exaggerated put-on grin.

I’m not a very good model. I’m too self-conscious and my smile tends to be the same after a while (noticed this in my “glam” sorts of shots done by a professional photo studio when I was fourteen in Taiwan).

Once I was sitting on one of those classic walls by the public library with the lions in New York and before the policeman blew his whistle at me and shooed me down, a guy with a huge camera strode past and took a picture, almost without breaking his stride. I suppose minor infractions of law are photo-worthy.

You never see what a stranger ends up capturing and finally seeing for the most part. They have the image of that moment and you don’t. You don’t quite know what it was that made them shoot you at that particular moment– a play of the light, an odd hair moment, a great skirt?

In the case of friends or family, the motivations are kind of obvious. My mom’s family’s old photo albums are all generally posed. Exposures were longer back then, so it’s understandable– if you moved, you were a blur. They’re always generally pretty polished, no stains, pressed clothes, beautiful. (Well, except for my uncle in drag when he was two or three thanks to his older sister waiting for a new younger sister to play dress-up with. He’s cute, not exactly polished though. I’d post it if I wasn’t quite sure what’d they’d make of it.)

My father’s family photo albums are lost. They were given to a family friend who was an artist to do something with, and apparently never returned. I’ve only seen a handful of photos from that side of the family. Some by surprise at a photographic retrospective of a show about the town they grew up in, which had photos of other townspeople there too– my cousin’s father’s family is probably mingled in there too. I had to rush through the show– my uncle was in the car honking the horn before I could look through them all, and there wasn’t much in the way of explanation– just a sudden recognition of a face here and there.

I’ve been going through my digital photo life to post some never-before-posted things up on my new addiction. My A75 was the first camera that I ever had sole ownership of– though I… err, appropriated cameras to take to college, and France, and New York– old film cameras– generally point and shoot. One old SLR which I was never certain how to use and probably never got the film developed. I’m kind of bad that way.

I was out of battery, and watching the fireworks, and thinking that it’s nice sometimes to see the world outside of the lens– just to let it slip past without thinking– that would make a great shot. The photography prof. (He does client work by the way– his work is at http://zonder-titel-photo.com/ — be wary of the pretty red shoe in the puddle– it steps into a few images not safe for work.) said that some things you don’t try to photograph. The photograph would be inadequate, and it costs you in the full experience. I haven’t quite figured out drawing that line satisfactorily. I’m clingy– a packrat, in fact, and it’s sometimes hard for me to just slip into the sight and not think, not try to trap it into words or a photograph so I won’t forget it. (Family gatherings generally have some sort of reportage going on, so I’m generally a bit scantier on photos and more fun.)

Memory can be more unreliable than my pixels on my hard drive. I need to do some backing up.

Oh, and speaking of faulty memory and hard drives… Any ideas on a self-backing up one? I know I asked my cousins and a friend, and they told me some things, but my memory is fickle if it’s not written down.

I’ll do some photo retrospectives of the summer– words would take longer and mine seem to be a bit slippery lately.


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Free Rice

September 2007
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