Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Stories Behind the Photos

One of the nice things about Facebook, and one of the dwindling number of things that keep me on that platform as it slowly takes away everything that once made it worthwhile and replaces it with all of the things that they want you to see instead (seriously, why does anyone need “Top Stories” at all, let alone as a constantly resetting default?) is that you can still find some community there.  There are still a few things that get shared among friends for no other reason than that they’re interesting, and there isn’t enough of that in this world I think.

So I mostly forgive Facebook for its relentless attempts to convert what I want from their experience into what they want from their experience, though if it keeps up at current pace I may have to rethink that at some point.

One of the more interesting things that got shared around recently was the idea that you should post seven black and white photos that relate to you somehow, one per day, with no people in them and no explanation.

I like photographs.  Someday I hope to be more serious as a photographer – I’ve been threatening to take a photography class for years now, and when I have infinite time and money I will learn how to do figure and portrait photography well.  This goal is, of course, indicative of one of the main problems I had with this little project. 

I don’t generally take pictures without people in them.

As far as I am concerned, the whole point of photography is to take pictures of people.  People are the most interesting things in the world, after all.  Finding seven photographs that I have taken that were worth sharing that didn’t have people in them was a bit of a trick.

The other problem is that you weren’t supposed to explain the photos, just post them.  And that, I believe, also misses the point of photography.  Photos exist to tell stories.  Without the story, it’s just a blank image.  I spent too long running a museum that had an archive full of photos nobody cared about because nobody remembered the stories that animated them.  I don’t need to replicate that.  That was the meme, though, and it was harmless enough, so that’s what I did.  But this is my space and it follows my rules, and I can explain things if I wish.

So here are my photos, with the stories.

This one is my home office.

The house was originally built as a Lutheran manse, and this room was designed to be the minister’s office.  It’s separated from the rest of the house by two doors, so people could drop in and go about their business without disturbing or even seeing the rest of the house, and it has built-in bookshelves.  It’s one of the main reasons I knew this was the house we’d buy.

The rest of the room is similarly filled with books and bookcases – all four walls, leaving space only for the door and the desk.  These are the history shelves, with some of the to-read books flat below them and an assortment of knick-knacks in front of them – mugs, trivia-night trophies, and so on.  When I finally organized all these books a decade or so ago, it was amazing thing.  Sometimes I’d just sit there and stare at them all.  Books are lovely things.

This one is breakfast these days.

After my recent Middle-Aged Man Medical Procedure this summer my doctor told me I needed to eat more fiber, which I took as permission to go back to eating those gritty Scandinavian rye crackers that I love so much but which I gave up when I first tried to cut back on salt.  They don’t actually have that much salt, it turns out, but I hadn’t gone back to them.  And now I have.  I discovered these while visiting friends in Sweden, and they remind me of a time and place.  All they need is butter.  The mug goes back a decade to when Philadelphia was lobbying for its own Major League Soccer franchise and a group that called itself the Sons of Ben was raising funds for that.  I thought they had the best logo in the world – especially the skull with the Ben Franklin hair and the Liberty Bell crack – so I bought a mug and a little plaque which you may have noticed in the first picture.  I try to follow the Philadelphia Union as much as I can these days, since I do feel at least minimally responsible for their being there.  Someday I’ll go to a game.  The tea is your basic English supermarket tea, as far as I can tell, but it is robust and tasty and I can’t even tell you how pleased I was to discover that I could get it in my local supermarket here in Wisconsin.  As with the crackers, I discovered it while visiting friends – this time in England.  It has been my tea ever since, and again, it reminds me of a time and place shared with people I don’t get to see often enough and one I won’t ever get to see again.

This is Midgie.

We got Midgie from the pound back in 2012 after Tria disappeared.  She’s kind of defective in the way that cats are, though she smells a lot better now that all of her teeth were pulled.  She’s sweetly dim with the loudest purr of any cat I’ve ever owned, and she’s basically mine.  I’m her person.  The odd thing about this photo is that it makes her head look big and her body look small, which is precisely the opposite of how she looks in real life.  She’s our Spare Parts cat, with a small head, short stubby legs, short tail, and barrel of a body. We’ve had her on diets for years now trying to slim down, to no avail. 

I took this photo in New York City last December when we were visiting friends and family.

My brother lives in midtown, and we have friends in Yonkers.  The way you get from there to there is via the subway, which comes above ground at some point before it terminates at the Yonkers station.  It was a clear and cold winter day when we went into the subway station, but somehow when we got to the end of the line it was snowing fiercely.  It never did snow in midtown, from what we heard.

We got off the subway car and started walking toward the stairs and this seemed like a fairly arresting image so I took a couple of quick photographs before heading down to wait for our friends.  This one came out well, I thought.

This one comes from Utah.

Silver Reef was a boom town that existed for about 15-20 years in the late 19th century.  As the name implies, it was a silver-mining town.  And when the silver ran out, so did everyone living there.

When I was an undergraduate back in the 80s I had a work-study job with a professor who was studying the town.  Every so often he’d go out and dredge the place for artifacts to being back for study, which my coworkers would then catalogue and analyze.  My job was to read endless reels of microfilmed Old West newspapers looking for any mention of the town or any of a long list of its inhabitants or businesses, and write down any that showed up. 

A couple of summers ago the girls and I followed Kim out to Salt Lake City, where she was grading AP exams, and from there we drove down to the Grand Canyon and then back up to Salt Lake City.  Somewhere on the way we noticed that Silver Reef was not too far from where we were, so we went to visit.  They have a nice museum, and the volunteer there spent a good hour telling us about pretty much everything in it.  He even remembered my old professor, who is apparently still around and had visited not long before.  Afterward they just let us wander around the place, and I found this set up in front of the museum.

I don’t remember which turkey this was.

Lauren started raising turkeys a couple of years ago as part of her 4H projects.  We get them in March as day-old chicks and raise them in bins in the living room until it gets warm enough and they get big enough to transfer out to the barn where we keep the chickens.  They start out roughly baseball-sized and end up the size of beach balls, and after the County Fair we take them to the processor to be butchered.  Domestic turkeys don’t survive very long even if you take care of them.  They’re bred to be meat on feet.

I love the turkeys, though.  They’re just the most amiable things you’ve ever seen.  Their only defense mechanism is their scowl, but once you get past that they’re kind of fun.  They’d make lousy pets, though – they’re skittish and filthy and incredibly fragile.  But sometimes it’s nice just to hang out with them and let them tweedle at you and peck at your hands on the assumption that they must be good to eat.  It’s strangely calming.

This one is from Bath in England, which we visited in 2012.

Bath is, not surprisingly, named for the old Roman Bath that is still there.  You walk in and there’s a museum surrounding it that you work your way through – we ended up splitting up, and Lauren and I went through at our own rather rapid pace – until finally you get to the bath itself, which is a fairly large, murky, and strikingly green pool of water that you just cannot imagine anyone actually immersing themselves into.  This goes doubly so when you try the water – there’s a little fountain by the side with cups, and as Magnus said, “You try it just to say you tried it,” as it is full of minerals and tastes like the last thing you tried to make in 10th-grade chemistry.

The photo is what’s on the wall as you walk from the main entrance where they sell you the ticket into the museum proper, and I’ve always kind of loved the juxtaposition.


LucyInDisguise said...

I want your office.

And, judging from the picture alone, mind you, you are way too clean and organized for my tastes. Way too many gaps and unused horizontal spaces.


David said...

No can haz. Iz mine.

I love my office. It's as close to a Man Cave as I get. And it's completely encased in books!

You only think it's too clean and has too much unused space because you can't see the rest of it. :)

LucyInDisguise said...

OK, two points.

First, I can actually see unused space right there in the photograph, and I’m fully capable of extrapolating from that that you are inefficiently using all of your available space. Were that my office, you would not even be able to see the shelves in the first place. (OCD, remember? And, World Champion Packrat to boot!)

Second, I estimate that each shelf that is visible (see?) is +/- 36” wide, and I can see four bays of shelves, so that wall (& I presume that almost all of the entire wall is visible) is a minimum of 12’ 6” long which would make it 3’ 2” longer that the long walls in my office. This is not fair, and I demand justice.

Finally, allow me to quote from the original post:

“was the idea that you should post seven black and white photos that relate to you somehow, one per day, with no people in them and no explanation.”

(bolding mine)

Your fourth picture has a “people” clearly visible at bottom right. So there!

Okay. Three points.

OCD, Remember?

Future Former World Leader Extraordinaire

Random Michelle K said...

We need to trade tactics--I rarely take pictures of people who are over the age of ten, but would like to feel comfortable doing so.

Well, ok, not completely true. At landmarks I'll ask adults if they would like me to take a group shot for them together, but often kids are involved--which is why I started doing it. Lots of pictures of kids and kids with one parent but few with everyone.

David said...

@Lucy – Well, I suppose if you want to be OCD about it there is theoretically room for more stuff, but since I still hope to find and use some of those books I have learned through hard experience (i.e. discovering multiple copies of the same book purchased because I didn’t think I had previous copies, and so on) that I need to set some limits. Plus the part you can’t see includes the wall to the left of the photo which is completely encased in book shelves and piles that spill well out into the floor.

I’m getting there!

I saw that person and decided that since he (I think it was a he) had his back to me and wasn’t central to the image I’d let it slide. And to be honest, it was hard to find pictures worth sharing that didn’t have any pictures at all.

Or, as the car said to the dog that was chasing it, “You got me. Now what?” ;)

@Random Michelle – I’m the sort of person who can (and has) taken photos of landmarks with my wife in front of them and captioned the photos as “Kim.” Lauren loves to take photos of non-people things, though, so we balance out.

LucyInDisguise said...

Okay, you have restored my faith in you. When you get down to the point where there is only a slim path from one end to the other, you'll know you've made it.

Or, perhaps more likely, completely lost it and given yourself over to the OCD side.