People Looking At Things

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September 7, 2012 by Sarojini Seupersad

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Sometimes I take* photos of things. People, buildings, plants, traffic, whatever or whomever catches my eye. I don’t take photos because it’s the new language or because I think I have some type of special talent or because I’m bored. 

I’m compelled to take photographs. I have no other way to describe it; I am legitimately compelled to speak through images. It’s a hobby in which, with practice, I’ve become slightly more skilled, but I’d like to improve more and more until people sprinkle my name liberally in conversation alongside the likes of Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams or Walker Evans (Okay, that’s not likely and I’m also not being serious, but that’s not the point). For me, photography is part expression, part art, part love for the visual natural and unnatural world. But, it’s a combination of other things, too. Aesthetics, interest and I don’t know, an inexplicable need to create; to add something to the world that wasn’t there before. Add punctuation to the unspoken conversation you’re having in your head. ‘The Artist’ in you knows what I’m talking about. It’s about capturing emotional things. Visceral things. Fleeting things. Thematic things.  Narrative things. Does that make sense? I don’t know.

Maybe I want to document life and save it for posterity, like my ongoing, personal project of taking monthly photographs of my face (to document youth’s demise) until I drop dead of whatever presently-unknown mortality (crossing my fingers for a post-coital heart attack at age 98).

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Perhaps it’s my way to communicate with others, to give my point of view, in the absence of actual verbal communication. An incredibly odd, but unfortunately frequent occurrence for me, strangers often stare at me for tedious lengths of time, as if trying to figure out my planet of origin, my place in the solar system, this one or another. None of them bothers to utter a word to me. Aside from turning me into an unusually self-conscious sort (Is something on my face?), another unintended result of this is my need to show or explain that, just like them, I’m human, too. From Earth. Hello earthlings, hello! This is what I’m thinking about, this is what I see and maybe you’re thinking about it, maybe you see it, too. After all, at its most fundamental explanation, that’s what Art is, right? This is what I’m thinking about. This is what I see.

I’ve been working on a photo essay for my very good friend who does not live anywhere near me. As in, not on this continent. We email a bunch, but a lot can get missed in our daily lives, and not everything can be communicated accurately through email, and we are not Skype kind of folks. Over time, we’ve figured out a neat way to show our affection, to show that we miss each other, to explain through images what we don’t say: You make me laugh and it kinda sucks you’re not here.  We send each other photos. Our simple photo-exchange-as-conversation ritual started by accident. At first, I thought it would be funny (Oh, this is going to be hi-LAR-ious!) to post a silly photo on Facebook of my dinner and then tag my friend as a pile of food. Then, he did relatively the same in return. After that, to amuse ourselves, we’d post all kinds of interesting, telling, visual pockets of our day. He’s a well-accomplished photographer, so this was easy for him. Piece of cake. This is a person who has told me, in order to be a good photographer, one does not need a fancy, expensive camera or formal training but instead, “All you need is one good eye. Just one.”

After a while, if anything reminded us of each other or just made us laugh – a building, a backyard chicken, a dinner party, a book, a tree branch – we’d take photos and share them, and then crack stupid, immature jokes back and forth over the ridiculousness of the image or our respective thought process behind the image (which is sometimes funnier and always more revealing). This ritual has endured and I think has become our ‘thing.’ It’s evolved into grand thematic works and intricately planned photo essays, and also single shots of silly things, like a cucumber or a piece of garbage. We post sporadically and meticulously on Facebook, particularly at vulnerable moments of solitude or hysteria; moments when we are missing our friends or need them to be close-by. Instead of dialing the phone, we send each other pictures. To me, it’s the equivalent of receiving a hand-written letter from a loved one – a really fun, living, hand-written letter, where the words team off the page and assault you, instead of waiting patiently for you to open the envelope. Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like.

While I get an abundant amount of enjoyment from this ritual – it’s really fun and creative – it only recently occurred to me that our photo ritual is seriously entertaining; not only to me and my friend, but to others as well. Our friends get a kick out of it and often join in with their own immature thoughts.  I have a photo on my Facebook page with 56 comments. And this is not out of the ordinary.

Several weeks ago, my good friend, who I’ve mentioned is many, many, many miles away, who is dear to me and makes me laugh more than anyone else on this planet, experienced an irrevocably devastating loss.  It’s the kind of loss where there is nothing you can say or do to make things better. While I’m an emotionally stable person (I think? I have no proof of this, really), I’m not sure how to handle this; I don’t know what to do; I don’t know how to be there for him. I feel impotent to handle this as an adult would, because essentially, like many of us, I’m an oversized child with an unusual vocabulary. Do I call every single day to say, “Hello, how are you?” Do I give him time and leave him alone? Should I send a care package? Flowers? I don’t know what to say, except, “I’m so sorry. How can I help? Do you need… anything?” These are all dumb, uninspired things to say, right? So… expected.  I mean these words earnestly though, very earnestly, but I also fear they’re only words playing stand-in for sentiments I don’t know how to say, things I don’t want to say because they’re terrible, weak things to say. Things like: I don’t know how you are going to get through this and I’m not sure if I’m as strong as you are and I’m not sure how to help you andYour life is never going to be the same. But, he knows all of these things, of course. No one needs to say them. 

Of course, our amusing conversations over silly photographs stopped for a short while. Surprisingly, over the last couple of weeks, he has started up again with our ritual and hasn’t let personal loss keep him from being who he is. He needs to feel normal and behave in his normal way. I respect and admire that more than I can say. Besides, everyone needs a distraction every now and then.

I feel incredibly too silly (not to mention disrespectful) to post my nonsense on Facebook for him during this time. It just feels, I don’t know, wrong? But I want to reciprocate, give him a sense of normalcy and more importantly, I do not want to turn into one of those people who acts strange during hardship or worse, disappears altogether because of their own discomfort. That sucks, but we’ve all seen it. I’m not that kind of person.  So, since my attention has lapsed toward this blog, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share a photo essay for my friend and also entertain a few other folks simultaneously, without the pressure and public nature of Facebook staring him in the face. Plus, I think he’ll like it a lot. We’ll see. 

So, may I present to you (above obviously) my photo essay, People Looking At Things. It is interspersed with random images I’ve captured that I found of interest, and wanted to share too. Please enjoy. Feel free to let me know what you think, because as we all know, there is always room for improvement.

*I feel the overwhelming urge to add an unnecessary sentiment here:  I hate when photographers say they are “making photographs,” or “I make photographs.” I realize this idea is akin to ‘making art,’ and although it is an accurate description and is correct (when capturing an image, one is indeed making something that wasn’t there before), it sounds way too clunky to ever be widely used, and anyhow, since when does the English language need to make logical sense?

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