This week I was speed-clicking through the slideshow because, honestly, none of the pictures were compelling me to do anything but speed-click. But then I got to this picture:
|Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty|
This picture made me stop for more than the nano-second any of us devote to most images these days. Photos, especially of celebrities, are increasingly disposable in our increasingly distracted digital age, but this one made me pause because it holds some fascinating visual contrasts, and it sets the stage to tell a story. Compositionally, the background is all movement, small shapes, various colors, competing diagonal lines, people looking in different directions. The viewer's eye can't really rest anywhere. The foreground, however, presents a contrast. Sandra Bullock's stance is a stable, calm vertical line against the background diagonals. Her calm confidence brings the viewer a measure of emotional rest, if I can call it that. She stands left of center, but her gaze leads us to the right, where we find some balance in the security guard standing in the middle ground.
I let my imagination wander beyond the composition; I wondered how this image and my interpretation of it would be different if Sandra Bullock wasn't recognizable as...Sandra Bullock. What if this was an advertisement or an obscure movie still? You could mine an entire drama of unrequited love, lost opportunities, competing desires all swirling in the guard's respectful distance but intense gaze and the woman's slightly sad expression. The face on the billboard looming high in the background seems to be watching the guard suspiciously, almost challenging him. (I'm sorry -- Did you say "over-active imagination"?) Back in reality, I thought that if I were the photographer, I expect I'd be rather excited and proud about this shot. I'd be delighted by the way I just happened to frame the shot so that a fleeting 'candid' instant nonetheless holds a realm of relational interest and visual juxtapositions for the viewer to explore.
This led me down another rabbit hole: Surely, a real, specific person with a name and a face and a story of his or her own took this picture (so astute of me, I know). Someone who has invested time and effort into the art of photography, and perhaps didn't grow up dreaming of his or her work being lost to the ether of the internet. Sure enough, there was the name: Pascal Le Segretain. I Googled him, and ended up here, and was pleasantly surprised by his thoughtfulness and purpose.
I realize how often I misjudge images like this one of Sandra Bullock; I assume they're cheap shots snapped by brutish paparazzi with little to no intentionality -- just the driving rush of being the one who got the shot. But maybe some of them are the work of artists who long for more than a nanosecond of our attention. Whatever your particular field or craft may be, can you share in that elation that comes with being in the right place at the right time, with realizing that you suddenly have all the elements necessary to create something compelling? Do you know the urge -- the need -- to make something that will last a little longer than 5 seconds and to share that with someone else?
100 years ago a photo was a precious thing. Even 20 years ago we had to be fairly selective about when to press the button, using up one of the precious frames on our roll of film. Then there was the waiting -- waiting until the day the photos were developed and we had time to pick them up, or waiting for the magazine to arrive in the mail, or waiting for the postcard that was our glimpse of Somewhere Else. Now it's so easy to forget many of the places we've been or the people we've known, because their images are suspended on the internet in digital form and our attention is engaged elsewhere, anyway. Probably by Pinterest. As both a creator and a consumer, I want to try to be more attentive to the myriad images at my disposal. In a world that feels less and less tangible -- as life increasingly seems to transpire in the digital realm -- time and attention are valuable currency with which we can help some of the truly good stuff survive the static.