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  • Eye-To-Eye

    Photo and Words by Star Rush

    “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed,” Susan Sontag, from On Photography

    Street photography is a kind of improvisation, not unlike jazz. It’s got beats, rhythms, spontaneity — attention to speed and a kind of “pre-visualization” of a final photography, a story, a revelation or insight.

    I’ve been asked about some of my candid street portraits and the seemingly intense eye-contact that’s evident in some of them. I’ve been warned about the “soul stealing” that I’m engaging in as one who photographs people I do not know in candid moments without their awareness. These are ethical issues; these are moral concerns of a high order. There appears this apparent connection that surfaces, as though I and the subject are standing face-to-face, eye-to-eye, an intimacy that emerges, a vulnerability that can leave us unsettled.

    Seconds go by as I walk by people on the sidewalk. I don’t stand on corners or lean against poles watching people pass. I don’t wait. I am seldom still. I walk, usually at a good pace, with my iPhone in in my right hand down at my side. The candid portraits are taken straight-on: me facing them and they me. We encounter one another, I raise my iPhone slightly, snap, lower it again, and walk on. All this happens in maybe 2 seconds. We then walk in opposite directions on the same sidewalk, neither slowing the pace much. I take one photo—that’s it. If it comes out, then great. If it doesn’t, I delete. I’m not an editor, and I don’t want a stream of photographs, all just slightly different from the next. One is good enough, or it is not. Well before I and the subject meet, I’ve already composed the final photo in mind’s eye, already saw them inside a frame, and so the photograph takes shape about 1 minute before the steps I’ve described above.

    But what about that eye-contact? Surely it is suspicion with or concern about the camera that’s being represented in those glances. I don’t think so. I don’t think that at all. I’ve started to look at people I don’t know in the eye when I’m out in public, without my camera. It’s actually harder to do than it seems. About two-thirds of the time, people don’t look back. Eyes get lowered or turn away. The others, they look back. We make eye-contact. There’s no camera—just our selves, locked for a split second. No words, no other gestures but a mutual recognition. It feels intense, this locking, this seeing. It’s emotional for me when it happens. There’s a kind of electricity, a surge of feelings, a rush of a kind of knowing or an insight, and then, just as fast, it’s all gone when we pass at the shoulder, each heading to separate directions.

    Maybe it’s not only the presences of this “stealing” camera that posses us, that has us violating each other in ways that are irretrievable. Perhaps it is a kind of meaningful observation that the camera records, a kind of “seeing,” a seeing of one another in our depths, our inner selves for a second. We meet in glance, and in this glance is a pulling away from the mundane. This is who I am. There is vulnerability in revealing, even in a second: “This is who I am. I see you.”

    What I like about jazz and the blues is the same thing I like about my experiences of candid photography; they tell stories, they express feelings about daily activities in life. Every line tells a story, expresses feelings or meaning—an authentic poetry that speaks to how people are, who they are, the most personal aspects of one’s humanity expressed in a public context.

    It’s kind of like telling secrets, these candid portraits, showing what passes unnoticed most of the time as we hurry by. Certainly, there's more is happening. Images lie and, well, they don’t. In the photographs, I share not just the subject’s but my eye, my sensibilities, my vulnerability, too. When I look at the photographs, I see my secrets surface, too.

    Originally written for Mobile Photo Group and shared October 28, 2011

  • Beauty is where you find it

    On Friday, my class of first-year Integrated Studies students from Cornish College of the Arts took a short walk to Seattle Art Museum in downtown Seattle to checkout the touring Miro exhibit.

    Here's Jackie (design) and Victor (theater).  Strike a pose.

  • iPhone Photography Workshop

    I'm teaching an iPhone photography workshop for Edmonds Community College's "ARTS NOW" in May. Seats are limited to 15. It's 6 hrs, spread across three 2-hour sessions and will be fun!

    Checkout the course description and sign up here: http://www.campusce.net/edmondsarts/course/course.aspx?C=424&pc=47&mc=55&sc

    The Wall

    Photo credit: "The Wall," Seattle 2014, with iPhone 5

  • Head Space & Photo Walks

    Head Space & Photo Walks

    Thank you to everyone who came out for this past weekend’s ”Be Mobile: End of Summer Photo Walk” produced by We Are Juxt and KING TV5 in Seattle.

    The event drew about 100 people, which is my guess and a last minute change in weather from the morning’s clouds and sprinkles to the afternoon’s warmth and sun. It was  a perfect evening in lovely Olympic Sculpture Park with views of outdoor art, the dazzling Olympic Mountain range, sparkling blue Puget Sound, and what appeared to be at least 3 wedding parties taking advantage of the environment.

    I don’t have a chance to participate often in community photo walks. It seems I’m either out of town or madly trying to finish up a creative project on weekends, which is when most walks are scheduled.

    Photo walks are about community: let’s shoot photos together. These two things, photography and conversation, are challenging for me to do together. Shooting with multiple photographers is challenging. When a subject sees 4-5 people snapping away at an object (or at them) it alters the scene. The photographers become as interesting as the interesting moment, which is odd. I usually take photos alone, especially candid street photographs. I’m also an introvert, specifically an INTJ on the Meyers-Briggs tes. I am naturally shy and quiet. I am especially so when I photograph and when I write, quiet that is. I’m in my head.

    So, I’ve learned being in my head and being on a photo walk are hard to do at the same time, like chewing gum and walking. The community aspect draws me out of my head-space, and sometimes that can be uncomfortable. But, I always have a good time meeting others who have a passion for what I do. Our conversations are jump-started in that respect, because there’s little translation required of the type sometimes necessary with others who aren’t as knocked out by walking slowly through the city taking photographs of what appears sometimes to be nothing all that special.

    In the digital era, there’s also excitement about meeting people I’ve perhaps only known via social networks or their photographs shared on-line. Shaking hands or hugging strangers who aren’t really strangers is a powerful feeling: familiarity and newness all wrapped up in one. What I like especially is looking through event tags after-the-fact to see how others captured the day on their cameras, whatever their cameras are. Same place, same objects–widely different photographs. The multiplicity of experience and perception is astounding, at least to me.

    So, here’s to making more room on my calendar and my head-space for community photo walks, pushing myself to develop as a photographer.

    Photo: “Untitled,” Seattle Sept 2013 with iPhone 5 at Olympic Sculpture Park
    originally posted Sept 10, 2013