I do photograph people, but I often do not post them online. I hesitate to without their permission; the internet being the Internet, for one thing, and a few people — ok, one person (*cough* Kate *cough*) — have rights of refusal. They must see the photo before I post it, and I cannot post without their approval.
My photos of people also feel somewhat more intimate than the average flower photo. You probably gain a degree of insight into how I see the world around me from my photos, and while that feels all well and good when the subject is puddles or stones or flowers or whatever, it feels a little TMI-ish when the subject is a person, particularly when it is someone I love.
You also get an artificial construct. Photographs are evidence of mediated experience; the camera is a tool I use (willingly and willy-nilly) to interpret what I am seeing and render it in two dimensions, flattening, leveling and separating, distancing all at once. It interrupts; even when invited it is intrusive between the subject and me. [Aside: Don’t get me wrong, I think the camera is a great tool, and one of the things I love about my aging iPhone is that it functions every bit as well as a point-and-shoot digital — or perhaps I should word that thusly: the makers installed a pretty good lens in it and I have learned how to make the most of it, pushing it to its limits. The app I use most, by the way and if you’re interested, is Camera+.]
Letting a camera mediate my experience is all fine and dandy when the subject is relatively inanimate and unfeeling. When it is Kate or Bruce, however, or other family and friends, I much prefer having nothing between my senses and the experience of them. An example: I remember wanting to draw Kate when she was tiny and new, the curve of her downy cheek or the delicious dip between her shoulder blades at the nape of her neck. I never did, and although I did try to capture my perception of those in photos more than once, what I mostly did was drink in the sight of them while she played or sang or slept, and those sense memories are still stronger than photos could capture and preserve like butterflies pinned under glass.
It occurs to me as I mull this over that I often inwardly absorb and ponder rather than outwardly record the sight or sense of someone when they do something that arrests or moves me, and I’ve done so for most of my life. Here, for better or worse, are a series of examples, images stored up and savored: There was a girl, a few years older than I, singing in a choir of youth at family camp in the early 70s. They sang something from Godspell, I think. My memory falters over the actual music sung. I remember wishing I was old enough to sing with them, to be part of this group that looked all happy, hairy and hippy-ish, and throwing themselves all in, earnestly participating. And there she was in the middle, this woman/girl I had never seen before. Peasant blouse, long dark hair parted in the middle and hanging down. She would rake her whole hand through it occasionally, starting at her forehead sweeping it back from her face, her thumb on one side of the part and fingers on the other in an effortless habitual gesture. The only picture, the only recording I have of that event is in my head, and while I cannot remember all the details, the moving image is clear. I was probably all of 12 years-old.
Other snapshots: My parents, holding hands in between themselves on the bench seat of the family station wagon, with me leaning over from the backseat (laws — and backseat seatbelts! — have changed since then), watching the summer sunlit road go by and their hands, steady. Randy, the back of his head in church as he tossed the mop of his hair, repeatedly and tic-like, shaking the silvery-gold layers into more perfect disarray. Robyn, the set of her mouth, her concentrated downward gaze as her slim fingers draft strands of fibre and set a spindle spinning. Ralph — was that his name? — looking like an Anglo version of Jesus in choir robes, his gaze, whether he knew it or not, keeping my knees from buckling, restoring a sliver of my faith in humanity when the whole world seemed to be in shambles. Rob, without at first seeing me, shoving a trailer-less wheeled axle down-hill in frustration and anger over something I couldn’t know; then his realization, a gleeful horror even, that it might ram into, run over me, and his quick flash of disappointment, then shame, when it veered off trajectory and thudded into a crumbling stone wall instead. Vicki, absentmindedly undoing her long braid as we thought through a knotty problem, talking, listening, talking, her hands combing, re-braiding her darkly greying wavy hair, working quickly, nimbly from nape of neck over left shoulder and down, ending with strands in her lap, weaving, tying off and tossing the rope over her shoulder without thought, decisively, never missing a phrase, an insight, then, problem solved or at least set aside.
These I give you. I cannot share with you videos of Kate’s recent honors recital last month. I wish we had a recording of the whole thing, but we don’t because I did not make one. I chose to have an unmediated experience of what was probably her last solo recital and I stored up the images in my head. I am so grateful to the many people who made it their business to have an unmediated experience of her recital themselves by being present. She was stunned and happy so many came. I also did not record her speech yesterday afternoon at Eastman’s Community Music School Commencement. It was short and lovely and she needed my hands to do something other than hold a video camera in those moments. I did record this from just before her talk, however. I’m told it’s metal.