Since the last time I posted about something besides birds, I have taken scores of pictures of birds, hundreds of pictures of birds. I’ve been taking the camera to work almost every day and rushing over during my lunch hour to the longer of the two beaches in the state park and, after shooting the juvenile and adult eagles and the great blue herons and any unusual looking waterfowl there, pressing onward beyond the beach to the boardwalk that winds through the woods of alder and cottonwood and fir along the mouth of Issaquah Creek, where depending on the season I am likely to see the red-breasted sapsucker picking at his small tidy rows of holes in tree trunks, or the pileated woodpecker or the rufous hummingbird or the ruby-crowned kinglet or the Western tanager or the pair of cedar waxwings, then even further to the muddy spit at the end of the walk, where the creek empties into the lake and where there are likely to be hooded mergansers or common mergansers or mallards or Canada geese or Northern shovelers dabbling or diving in the brown water or a lone chattering belted kingfisher or a quiet and near-motionless green heron sitting above the creek on a shaded branch, waiting to dart headfirst into the water to bring up a fish in its beak, and always lots of tree swallows and the odd cliff swallow or barn swallow (I’m not sure which) swooping and dipping in crazy loops and often a bald eagle or two in the tall bleached snag on the creek’s far side, surveying the fishing grounds beyond the patches of cattails on the lakeshore, where a redwing blackbird often can be heard piping out its zinc-plated call. I have taken photographs of almost all of these, and good ones of some of them, and photographs of one or two that I think are remarkable. The camera’s SD card keeps getting so full of photographs of birds that I have to go through and delete the duds, which is 90 percent of them.
But this is not a post about birds, or about photographs of birds. Yesterday, for reasons unimportant, I had no way home from work but to ask a coworker to drive me across Lake Washington into downtown Seattle, where I planned to catch a bus north. He let me off where I could catch a bus directly home, but it was such a wonderful day that I texted Angela that if she could work it she should grab the girls and come meet me at the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner, the which she happily did.
The Old Spaghetti Factory is at the other end of town from where I was, so I set out hoofing it, and while I threaded my way through old familiar streets I dug out the camera and started looking around. I only had the long lens with me because I always need to be zoomed in closer when I’m shooting birds. In fact you can never get quite zoomed in enough when you’re trying to photograph a bird. But in the city, the long lens is immediately a liability for most kinds of photos most of us want to take most of the time. We want to get a wide view that captures things, discrete things like buildings, in their entirety, but the long lens slices out parts of things and places them next to parts of other things, and shrinks the spaces that separate them so that objects seem coupled in unusual ways and often even mashed together. With the long lens in the narrow confines of city streets, you cannot get far enough away from anything to capture all of its bounds, so you have to look at the pieces and see what you can put together in the frame. I thought about that as I walked, and wondered what I could do using only the long lens.
I found it exhilarating to be surveying the hard edges of the city again after so many months scouring the ungridded wilds of the state park. The afternoon was hot like an August day only without that Augustine sadness — the air of late May is still full of scent and movement and energy — and the bright sunlight ran ahead of me cutting things in two and searching out nooks and narrows. I was beside myself with glee as I kept stopping to test a view through the camera’s viewfinder, or waiting for a pedestrian to put herself in just the right place or for a bus to get out of the way of a man sitting on the sidewalk. I don’t get to be in the city very often anymore. It used to wear me out after five workdays and I couldn’t wait to get away from it, but working out in the boondocks (which what with freeways and air traffic and construction are no quieter) I have really missed the visual pleasures of the urban built environment.
I took a photography class once, and of all the things the teacher said about this and that, I remember one thing most clearly. He described four different statements that progressively expressed what he considered a better way to imagine what photography is about. I don’t remember them all, but I remember that the first and least interesting statement was “I was there and I took this picture of it,” and that the last and most interesting statement was “I experienced such and such and I made this image of it,” the difference in engagement and creative effort being evident in the phrase “made this image”.
In that spirit, then, here are a poet’s dozen of “the images I made” yesterday when I experienced the city at street level, on foot, from King Street Station at the south end to the Old Spaghetti Factory at the north end with only my long lens to help me see with. A couple of them are revisitations to scenes I’ve shot before. They are not great exposures, but in each of these images I see things that meet or come near each other in interesting ways or create some sort of internal, visual rhyme or even something that simply amuses me or pleases my eye. As an example, the one of the man sitting alone on the waterfront has several mammoth industrial cranes in the background, virtually all turned toward him, but they don’t seem able to lift him out of the heavy place he’s in. In another, two triangular buildings seem to be facing off, their argument refereed by a larger, squarer building standing between them. In yet another, a highrise condo with doors that rarely open serves as a backdrop for a door left wide open high up in a steam plant. Not all of them are allegorical; one simply has more people in it than you might initially see. But there’s some thought or feeling in each that is brought out by the compressive quality of the long lens. Maybe you’ll see something I didn’t. If you do, let me know. I just now — only now — noticed that in one image I framed for a completely different reason, the yellow signs mimic two men crossing the street.