I last wrote on the merits of carrying a camera around with you—everyone assumes you are a photographer and is fine with you blatantly staring at things (and people)—and I came off sounding like a cynic…and a weirdo. Which is exactly what I was trying to cover up with my camera—damn the illuminating nature of my self-expository writing! It would be futile to try and refute that claim, but I do want to amend my sentiments slightly in order to express my respect for the art of photography that I so blindly used as a dummy screen to hide my own strangeness behind.
Since discovering that walking around with a camera allows me to wander the streets at any hour of the day without arising suspicion, I have also found that my newfound freedom has altered my perception. Or rather it has allowed me to explore new perceptions. No longer do I ever feel self-conscious stopping to examine a cool pattern on a building or a neat sign hanging in a store window; I can take as much time as I want just sitting on a park bench; I can notice patterns in the flows of people and catch similarities in a mass of faces. I see everything afresh, as if I put on a new pair of glasses. I was blind but now I see.
But all I did was hold my eye up to the lens of a camera…and let it limit my view so that my center of focus was completely thrown off and therefore allowed to explore new possibilities. Walking downtown today the image came into my head of the scene from the Matrix (or one of the sequels maybe) where Neo gains the power to see the world around him for what it truly is: people, buildings, even the air itself composed of geometric lines and tiny dots. Also everything was green, but I’m not sure why that was. Looking through the lens of a camera—or even just looking through my normal eye portals while holding a camera—I feel as if I am exposing the Matrix. Literally, in the case of looking at my surroundings as nothing more than an amalgamation of lines and geometric shapes: the bold corners and sharp lines of buildings, the smooth curve of sidewalks, the asymmetry of people walking down the street and the perfect symmetry of their cars lined up in traffic.
A photographer can also see the world in a less literal sense though, or at least a less mathematical one. If you let your mind slip out of focus and then back in (like looking at one of those crazy pictures where the 3D image rises out of the background of swirling color) then you can see the world as just a collection of colors. Even more basic, you can look only at the designation of light—see the world in black and white as a dog does. And aren’t dogs the happiest creatures you’ve ever seen? Maybe they are on to something.
I like to look at the world as a great canvas of normalcy and consistency out of which pops the most vibrant images of originality—nothing makes beauty more beautiful than juxtaposition. So I focus on little flowers pushing through cracks in the cement and graffiti on the dirty brick façade of an old warehouse, the girl with the bright yellow raincoat in a sea of black and the little old lady with the outlandish purple hat. The house that clashes with its neighbors—and probably the neighborhood association—is to me as wonderful as the cherry tree that blossoms ahead of its time. The little kid laughing as he splashes in puddles while all the adults hurry past with lowered faces? Exquisite. A bike rack that’s been dressed in a home-knit sweater? Priceless!
Maybe some people prefer the opposite; as photographers they rather focus on the beauty that arises from nothing but normalcy. They like capturing people walking from behind, all faceless bodies and identical backsides. Or a straight road lined with straight telephone poles, nothing but beautiful right angles that model humanity’s ability to form nature into aesthetic organization. What matters is not that you see the world a certain way, but that you see it in a way that is different from your ordinary view. That is the beauty of photography.
I even got a new battery and started snapping pictures. I figured I might as well if I was going to the trouble of carrying it around and holding it to my face all the time, and guess what? I was right, my pictures are shit. Oh well.