Pictures and Permission

IMG_4110When it comes to photographing my fellow humans, I am often in a bind; I prefer candid shots but don’t like to take photos of people without their permission. But there is a middle way; sometimes, through asking permission, I make a genuine connection, even for a few seconds, which leads to a lovely photo. So, while I didn’t ask permission to take the photo to the left or immediately below, all the others have permission and a story.

IMG_4116Yesterday a friend told me about the medieval festival (an annual tradition) in Fort Tryon Park, so I decided to go see it. I had caught the tail end of it two years ago and missed it entirely last year. I headed up the hill around 3:30 in the afternoon. It was a glorious day. All sorts of things were going on: a human chess game, knights in battle, music, magic tricks. Many people had dressed up for the occasion. I saw many colorful and elaborate costumes, but this was the most beautiful of all. I asked the woman whether I could take her photo, and she said yes and beamed. When I complimented her costume, she said, “I made it.”

IMG_4115 Then I saw a boy in an epic sword battle with his little sister. I asked the mom whether I could take a photo, and she said yes–but just at that moment, the girl hurt her thumb and started to cry. I walked away so as not to be in the way. A few minutes later, I came back, the brother and sister were at it again, and the mom asked them to slow down so that I could take some good pictures. I caught the tail end of the pinnacle of the fight. The slow motion only intensified it.

After witnessing such a display of martial arts, I was due for some music, so I found some troubadours. With permission, I took their picture, and they played for a few seconds. Then one of them asked, “You’re taking photos, not a video, right?” I assured them that this was so. Then they played a spirited song, and then another. I stayed for a while.

Yes, I will miss Fort Tryon Park. But probably this very thought pushed me to speak to these people and take these photos. I am usually shy about that sort of thing, but running out of time can make a person bolder.

 

I made a few edits to this piece after posting it.

What Is a Photograph?

A challenge, when coming home from a trip, is to decide what to convey to others and what to keep to oneself. Some of this isn’t a matter of choice; there are aspects of a trip that you can’t convey if you try. Or rather, in conveying it, you alter it a little. For instance, if you tell someone about wandering alone in a city, you have already changed that aloneness.

Also it isn’t always clear how many pictures people want to see, how many stories they want to hear, etc. One doesn’t want to try their patience. On the other hand, a well-told travel story, or a few well-chosen pictures, can bring something to others’ lives. I have vivid memories of other people’s visits to the Hebrides, South Dakota, Vaucluse, and other places.

When taking (and assembling) photos, I do not emphasize standard tourist sites, no matter how important. Hundreds, even thousands, of such photos already exist, and most are better than mine. My photographs are usually of places and things I found or noticed on my own (or with someone else).

Then there is the question of “outtakes.” After I select photos for a slideshow, after I put them all together, I find photos that I left out, photos every bit as beautiful, even more so, than the ones I included. In fact, it’s that second glance that brings back the trip. Why? Maybe because those “outtakes” hold the little diversions that are the soul of the trip. A dog running down a street; railway workers waiting for the train to pass; kids playing football in the school courtyard. Or maybe it’s something along the photo’s edge: a tail, a branch, a chair.

That leads to the title question: what is a photograph? It looks inward as well as outward; it says something about the photographer (or amateur picture-taker) as well as the external scene. But more than that, it conveys the relation of an instant: maybe a passing relation, maybe a lasting one, but a relation all the same. At its best, it is mutual; in a split second, you and the scene capture each other and let each other go. This happens rarely, but it happens.*

So here are two “outtake” slideshows, each with eighteen photos: one of Istanbul and one of my two-day biking trip in northern Hungary.

 

*A paraphrase of the ending of Nikolai Gogol’s story “The Nose.”