STRANGER a DAY : 2004 is a series of black and white photographs, allegedly (although there is no reason to doubt this) of strangers. Via Unsettled. Normally, I do not publish links to other sites out of a desire to celebrate those sites in the central body of Unbillable Hours. I leave those links in the Obiter Dicta section. However, it's captain's perogative, as they say, and I think this site is worth the attention.
In the opening caption to Stranger A Day: 2004, the author, Roark Johnson [FN1] states
Since January 1st, 2004 Roark Johnson has been photographing strangers, people he doesn't know, once a day, every day. He's using an 8X10 Deardorff. Unlike Roark, it's a camera that commands attention, respect and awe. Join him and come back often as he risks being rejected by those faces he wants so much to photograph.
A Deardorff 8 x 10 large format camera
A Deardorff is a remarkable camera. It basically follows the same principles of optics and film that have been used since the days of Weegee (note bene: Weegee's photos, while brilliant, are graphic; please use your discretion), the master of violent photography [FN2].
I envy Johnson's ability to capture the dynamic nature of humanity. A person, even in a single image, seems to have so many qualities captured. The person's face reveals pride, fear, suffering, and hope. And yet, it is rare that I feel satisfied with my ability to capture people in pictures. I have only a few pictures that I feel capture people well.
These are pictures that I am particularly fond of, especially Carnivale No. 1. In order to take that shot, I had to slither into a crowd of performers at the Fat Tuesday/Carnivale/Mardi Gras parade in the capital of Aruba, Oranjstad. It was the first time I had felt sufficiently comfortable with my camera to let it justify my actions. To let it guide me. I was covered in confetti and spray string debris by the bystanders of the parade as I wandered through the groups of dancing performers. As I snapped shots of various dancers - and slipped around floats in order to avoid the Aruban police - I came to an opening, and saw the woman in blue finish what can, politely speaking, be called a suggestive dance. When she saw me with the camera, the woman was still out of breath from the dance, but she burst into a grin.
I love that she did so.
I can imagine this woman's life - probably horribly inaccurately - in Aruba. I can imagine her as being a mother, perhaps an office worker in one of the many tax shelters that do business in Aruba or as an owner of a tourist gift shop in the duty free section of Oranjstad. She's got the wear and tear of someone who has raised children (look at her arms; those are the arms of someone who has carried a child without second thought), who has worked in the office or commercial world of Western life. Yet, she still has the original, native traditions of the Caribbean island. She's still got the pride, much like, today, there will be American-born men and women celebrating their Gaelic heritage with pride.
These are my imaginings, though, and they could be wrong. For all I know, she could be an arbitrage broker from White Plains who has returned to Aruba to live it up with her family.
These are people. They are vibrant, changing things, captured in a still, unchanging moment. For that reason, it is so rare that I feel that I have served a person well by taking his or her photograph. I want it to unveil them. Instead, I find myself most comfortable with taking pictures of things. We all notice patterns in our lives, those unconscious or subconscious acts that eventually become representative. I've noticed a pattern, on my part, of photographing statues and paintings of people. Light and shadow, bouncing off of wood, stone, or canvas, seem to give the statue or painting a bit of life and depth that I can't seem to give to people. Yet.
1. Johnson's main blog appears to be private, so I cannot really say much about him other than what is posted above Stranger A Day. Hopefully, Johnson will consider making public his blog.
2. In fact, Weegee used a smaller, lighter camera than the Deardorff 8 x 10. He used a higher speed 4 x 5 format camera, which would have been easier to use while on a ladder, shooting down, as Weegee often did to get unique, God's-eye views. See, e.g., Human Head, Cake Box Murder (1940). Note bene: Again, as mentioned above, while Weegee's photography is art, and is for a particular, non-objectionable purpose (although I suppose some could debate this), please use discretion in viewing these pictures. While some are images of children playing by fire hydrants and matrons at Lincoln Center, others are post-mortem shots at crime scenes.
De Novo is a new blog by the former authors of the En Banc legal blog. It's introductory post links to four essays on how to think and write like a lawyer. It's always wonderful to read (especially since I can't read any Typepad-based blogs right now, damn it) some thoughts on the basics of my profession: writing, rhetoric, critical reading, and negotiation. I think I'm going to have to take on a few of these essays, as well. Very interesting stuff.
Every reiteration of the idea that there is no drama in modern life, there is only dramatization, that there is no tragedy, there is only unexplained misfortune, debases us. It denies what we know to be true. In denying what we know, we are as a nation which cannot remember its dreams – like an unhappy person who cannot remember his dreams and so denies that he does dream, and denies that there are such things as dreams.
We are destroying ourselves by accepting our unhappiness.
David Mamet, A Tradition of Theater as Art, in Writing in Restaurants.
The cheap tin bell on the door to Elsie’s Subs jangled as my father and I walked in.
One of my favorite things about attending Boston College was the absolute love of books held by the Jesuits (and many of the other professors, but few held that love so deeply as the priests with whom I interacted). Each year, the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Boston College, William B. Neenan, SJ, published his list of books that he thought each student, alumnus, and faculty member should read. I can hardly claim to have read all of the books, although I do regret that. Still, I enjoyed giving one or two a shot each year (on top of the reading I had to do). Here's a link to Father Neenan's thoughts on the Dean's List, along with a link to the cumulative dean's list from 1982 to 2003. I've included the cumulative Dean's List in the continuation of this post, along with some thoughts on each of the books I have read. It's a fun little break from working on the story I've been fighting with this week.