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Mornings at the Earth Cafe, Oct 2015 – 12

Mornings at the Earth Cafe, Oct 2015 – 12
This was taken just after 7 AM, on the southwest corner of Broadway and 97th Street — when it was still nearly dark outside, and when the Earth Cafe had not even opened.

The woman has already gotten her first cup of coffee (probably at Dunkin Donuts, a little further down the street), and is reading something on her smartphone while carrying her baby in a Snuggly.

This scene was repeated over and over again throughout the morning — though in most cases the baby was in a stroller, sound asleep.

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As I’ve mentioned in a couple of recent Tumblr blog postings, I’m working on an exercise for a new class that I’ve started taking at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in the fall of 2015.( You can see the earlier Tumblr postings here and here.)

In addition to taking a bunch of photos (see the other Tumblr postings for details and descriptions of what the photos are supposed to illustrate), we also have the task of editing our images down to a maximum of 10 “presentation images” that we will share with the ICP class next week. When our instructor, Joanne Dugan, asked me last week if I anticipated having any problems with this aspect of the assignment, I shrugged and said, “No, I do this all the time …”

Well, yes and no: I do do a lot of editing/winnowing of my photos before deciding which ones should be shared with anyone else. But I had forgotten that I also do a lot of cropping, color-adjustment, tweaking, and general post-processing before I upload my photos to Flickr, Facebook, or even Instagram. For this particular ICP exercise, we were also told not to crop the photos, and not to do any post-processing. That makes things a lot more difficult …

On the other hand, part of the exercise is to assemble and share a maximum of ten photos that collectively tell a “story” of some kind – and to “tell” that story with anywhere from a word, to a sentence, to a paragraph for each of the photos. That makes things a lot easier … after all, if a photo has to be presented in isolation, then it truly stands alone. And it is intended to be viewed without any accompanying text, then it really stands alone. There’s nothing wrong with that; indeed, one might argue that that’s the whole point of photography: a picture should “tell” a story all by itself, without any extraneous verbiage to “explain” what might not be obvious to the viewer.

But not very many things exist in complete isolation of the rest of the universe, especially in today’s interconnected world. I suppose some people would debate that point quite vigorously; and some people might argue that a photograph of a person, place, or thing should be able to “stand alone” without anything else. I certainly have seen photos that fall into this category, and I suppose I’ve taken a few like that, too. Or, maybe if I never intended my photos to be considered in complete isolation from one another, perhaps that’s how some people prefer to look at them …

But for me, that’s a pretty rare phenomenon. Almost always, I find myself telling a story. The photographs obviously present one “dimension” of the story, in a visual form; and I’ve been trying to remind myself lately that videos can present can present one, and sometimes two, additional dimensions (motion and sound) that can add enormously to the viewer’s understanding and appreciation of the underlying story.

But even if one uses only traditional photos, I find that it’s almost impossible for me to crate (or make, or take) one photo by itself; invariably, I take dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands, which collectively tell a story. It may be a story about someplace I’ve been, or some event in which I’ve participated, or some individual (or group of individuals) that I want the viewer to know and appreciate in more detail than would be possible to communicate in a single photo.

And then there are the words … maybe it’s because I spend part of my time as a writer and teacher that I find it almost impossible not to augment my photos with words. Lots of words. Indeed, sometimes far too many words; and sometimes clumsy words, or the wrong words. And I do realize that there are times when the situation would be improved if I would just shut up, and let the photograph do all of the communication. But for better or worse, I guess I’m a photojournalist.

With that in mind, I began the process of editing the photos for my recent ICP assignment. Here’s what I found:

1. It’s not as easy as one might think, when you start with a large number. I began winnowing the original images when I had 2,700 (after 9 days of shooting), and I still had 5 days of shooting left).

2. It’s much more difficult than I had imagined, given the constraints of my ICP class: no cropping, no post-processing, and a maximum of only 10 images. I’ve worked within those constraints for the final images that I’m submitting to the ICP class; but for these Flickr uploads, I’ve ended up with 40-45 images – and they have been heavily cropped, tilted, color-corrected, noise-dusted, and tweaked in various other ways. C’est la vie…

3. Using the collection of photos to “tell a story” is both easier and harder than I thought it would be. I’m including these background notes in all of the photos that get uploaded to Flickr … because I’ve learned (form past experience) that some visitor will zoom in on just one particular photo, without necessarily looking at all of them, and/or without seeing the overall notes for the entire album. And I don’t think I’ll find it difficult to write a few sentences to provide the background details for each photo … but whether they “flow” and create one overall, coherent “story” remains to be seen.

4. Aside from a narrative “story,” there are some “themes” that I noticed throughout this entire two-week exercise. The most significant one was exactly what I had anticipated: patterns. If you are lucky enough to sit in the same spot at the same time, day after day, you see the same rhythms, the same people, the same repetitions of life’s little actions and emotions. Many people have the opportunity to see these patterns, because they do follow the same schedule, day after day, on their way to their job or their school. But some of us have irregular routines, and any, most of us don’t pay any attention. If you slow down, and pay attention, you’ll see the patterns.

But sometimes the pattern involves uniqueness – i.e. strange and unusual people or events that seem to happen only once. But I have to keep reminding myself that my visits have lasted only two weeks; if I was here for a month, or a full season, or perhaps an entire year – then perhaps I would see these strange incidents repeating themselves

5. Another theme – which I did not anticipate, but was delighted to see – was the pervasive sense of affection and caring between and among everyone on the street. Mostly it was apparent in the interactions between parents and children; but sometimes it was between dog-owners and the dogs they were walking; sometimes it was between friends who happened to be walking along together; and sometimes it was between complete strangers and me, as the strangers would smile and nod and say “hello” if they noticed I was watching them. It was a great experience.
By Ed Yourdon on 2015-10-10 07:04:23
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