It is the last day of winter
and as I walk to the city library slipping from the glove of the Melbourne Writers Festival shaking off some final lingering thoughts, I pass the last bulky complex in a row of imposing buildings giving way to open space and a wide, symmetrical cascade of steps. Patterned multigrain bricks stretching up to the sloping plain at the top go escape my peripheral line. Pairs of people are sitting in various configurations at the top, conversing, hand-gesturing and sipping indistinguishable beverages.
I find this scene immensely pleasing to the eye and am unable to resist snapping a quick picture.
Scrolling through my photo gallery I am somewhat shocked to realise that I have tens – no – hundreds of similar photographs. Ordinary, you could even say meaningless, snapshots of landscapes, street crossings, the odd view from a cafe with empty cappuccino mug in the frame, and taken under atrocious lighting more often than not.
In other words these were flat, purely cross-sectional ‘documentations’ that did not draw on the complexity of the scene. They neither conveyed statements nor attempted character studies into any of the faceless strangers in the photographs. Why then did they exist, and in such multitudes?
Upon contemplation, I came to realise that this was not the intention of these amateurish records at all.
Imagine reaching the highest altitude level in Paris, offering up the most magnificent aerial view like a gift. You can substitute that for Mt Fuji, Niagara Falls, the observatory deck of Eureka Tower. What do you do? Let out a gasp/sigh, take it all in and realise you’ve been holding your breath involuntarily a few seconds later. Then – you’ll remove your camera from your belongings to snap off a few clicks, almost all of which you’ll look back on later and concede do not do the place justice, but probably won’t delete anyway. This too is involuntary.
It is never just about capturing the time or place – these random variables mean nothing when taken in isolation without our feelings imprinted across them. If it was just the superficial record of a particular breath-taking landscape or period that we were after, then we would as a matter of competitive disadvantage defer naturally to professionals with the award-winning pictures. Instead we continue to manufacture our own amateurish creations with an insatiable sort of hunger. It is of some vague human solace to us.
And what is that?
If you pressed me to explain, I would go back to the afternoon’s little discovery. I would probably say something about how the accidental combination of sunlight and my mood had registered some sort of a poignant response in me. My frame of mind at the time – which, wandering, free-ranging, and pleasantly buzzed from the unexpected liaison I’d just left, happened to be perfectly ready to accept such a simple visual delight – something that surely would not ordinarily produce the same result, and completely out of the question had I been stressed, harried or in a rush.
Taking into account these preconditions of mind, place and time, seemingly necessary for such an involuntary stimulation of the senses and the newfound appreciation of my physical surroundings, of course means that the same photograph alone would be unable to evoke similar reactions (which I suspect are simply hormonal releases of pleasure) upon review. Yet still I take them by the hundreds, hoping vainly that such random documentation will allow for a few choice, perfect moments to live on, or more accurately, to be relived some time later at whim. Perhaps it is subconsciously pre-emptive: a misguided act of preservation to stockpile emotionally pleasurable stimuli if ever my reserves run low.
As I reflect a few hours and kilometres later, indeed I hope that looking upon this photograph on a future day will bring me back to this unique feeling, here and now, at the intersection of the time of day (4.50pm) and place (moderately crowded crossing at Swanston/Flinders Lane); that is, a moment of utter peace, being in touch with my surroundings, and the warm taste of promise that one cannot help sucking in from the almost-spring air.
Some exhibits from a dubious gallery