There are two views from our Yokohama apartment that I love–the big cloudscaped skies and the symmetrical silhouette of the distant Mount Fuji. And sometimes, on certain evenings in certain light, the two come together and the result is spectacular.
Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan. May 2014.
There’s a writing exercise I use with my students where I give them an image–usually something clipped from a magazine–and tell them to write about what they see for a set period of time. Then I give them a blank sheet of card-stock paper with a small square cut out of it. I tell them to put the card-stock over their image and move it around until it reveals some interesting detail, then write only about that smaller part of the image for the same amount of time. Often they write completely different stories or poems, about completely different things and from completely different perspectives. And yet, when you pull back, sometimes it’s difficult to see that all those stories are happening simultaneously.
It’s not really surprising then, that this is also a pretty important idea in photography. In many ways, the art of photography is the art of cropping. We use our cameras to crop the visible world down to the frame within the lens. Once we’ve taken the photograph, we can crop hundreds of different stories from the same frozen moment by shifting our attention and narrowing or expanding our frame to suit. How does the story of hands on a smartphone change if we are also given a glimpse of the face that is using it? What if we only see part of the face that’s using it–lips slightly parted in what? exasperation, exclamation, desperation, wonder? How important is the story of that phone if we move it to the side of the frame and centre on a woman in a jean-jacket or a man piggy-backing his boy and carrying a folded stroller?
Each of these images is cropped from the same image (below). Which story is the most compelling to you?
Yokohama, Japan. May 10, 2014.
Some days are for walking.
It happens that two of my closest friends were born on the same day, a year apart. Seems like a grand coincidence to me, though I’m sure the astrologers would say that it makes perfect sense.
Every year, when their birthday comes around, I try to spend at least part of the day walking, taking pictures of what their birthday would look like if they could spend it with me, since I am so very rarely able to spend it with either of them. This year, their birthdays fell on a Saturday, a day without obligations, a day I could spend as it chose to unfold, the kind of day that is best spent with friends.
Is it odd that thinking of far away friends can make you more present where you are?
Some of the very best things are odd.
Tokyo, Japan. May 2014.
Sometimes we forget to be tourists in the places we live. Having visitors helps. On this occasion, we ventured into Ginza, headed for the Laduree Tea Room, but arrived too early and had to wait outside a bit before we could go in. The waiting was exceptional, as the day was clear and temperate and given to people-watching.
I took this photograph in the window of a department store. A line of brightly coloured pedestrians makes its way through the monochrome of sand-dune beach-brush, a black-and-white couple sits on steps imagined from the crosswalk zebra and a spectrum of silver sand spills out into the city streets under facades of glass and brick and the signage of the city while an icon of fashion turns the other cheek. Even as the spring becomes the summer, it’s all about the layers.
Outside Krakow, Poland. December 2008.
An upcoming staff and parent art exhibit at our school has given me good occasion to have a look back through some of the older photographs I’ve taken, but not shared or printed.
I took these photographs on the morning of New Year’s Eve in 2008. We were visiting Poland for the first time and we wanted to visit Auschwitz. We didn’t want to be part of a big tour; we wanted to go more quietly, so we hired a private guide who recommended that we leave at from Krakow at dawn. It was one of those mornings where the clear blue skies and warm sunlight made me think it should feel warm, but the air was so crisp and clean and cold that it froze the inside of my nose with every breath.
And that was the contrast of the day. The road to Auschwitz was watched over by stands of trees that seemed full and sparse at the same time; the early light cut between them, warming their bark and green needles and moss, and stretched out their shadows to define them in hyper-reality. And yet there was also an emptiness about them, the space between so palpable and full of absence. That negative space pervaded the camps at Birkenau, but where the trees were draped in the daybreak’s radiance, the remains of Birkenau were chilling in every way.
There was a wreath somewhere along the way. I’m not even sure that I saw it as our car sped by, but my camera caught it, its bright flowers aflame in the interstice. I don’t know why that wreath was there, or who placed it, or when, or whether it was marked by ceremony or if it was just set down, unnoticed by all the cars racing toward their imposed importances beyond the vanishing points of the hills and roads. But it’s frozen there now in a photograph at least, a testament of someone’s loss that without specific reference, without a name or story of how and why, becomes symbolic of all the losses I can’t imagine in those woods, along those roads. And more than that, it leaves me considering that only where love survives can we really remember.
Yokohama, Japan. March 2014.
I mentioned a while back, that I work with a group of student filmmakers–The Filmeisters–after school. Last year they made one 42 minute zombie epic called Diploma. This year the group almost tripled in size, so we are making more, shorter films.
The first, “The Bureau of Broken Hearts and Faucets” is written and directed by Jun Sekiya, who wrote and directed Diploma last year. It’s the story of young man who wants to sue Love for the five disastrous relationships he’s had in the last year. Another project is a music video, and we have at least three new scripts in development. The last project is this one, “Eat the Frog,” a film about the fragility of those first moments of attraction. The script is here, in an earlier post.
I wrote the film almost seven years ago, as an acting exercise for students who wanted to play something more emotionally sensitive than the big musicals we do as school productions. Then I used it to help new screenwriters understand screenplay formatting. Last year, a couple of students filmed part of it, but lost all of their footage before editing. This year, the students helped me to rewrite the script and bring it up to date a bit. They insist that the fact that characters talk on the phone makes it too implausible, but I stuck with it. You gotta dance with them that brung ya.
It is difficult to teach filmmaking and direct a movie at the same time, and I’m afraid the film will suffer for it in attention to detail, but in the bigger picture, I hope there are some more students now who have fallen in love with the process of filmmaking. And there are still a lot of beautiful moments to savour, in the filming, and in the film.
These are production stills from the footage we shot.