This was not the photograph I had in mind for today’s blog, but a recent encounter with my dentist (bear with me on this one) kind of made me think about people falling in love and the crazy things they do when they are in love. Not that there is any love involved in my visits to my dentist, far from it. What happened that got me thinking was his reaction to my comment on a story he had just narrated to me. You see, he was sort of curious as to why one of his dentist friends who recently got married had decided to sell his practice and move to Spain with his new bride. You have to understand that in Northern Virginia, leaving a lucrative job to experiment with a “less certain” lifestyle is tantamount to committing professional harakiri on a public square. Not kosher, to say the least. But this unnamed dentist apparently did just that, and off to the land of Cervantes and Miguel de Unamuno he went.
When I was able to talk again (you’ve been to the dentist, so you know what I’m talking about), I told my dentist the only thing that came to mind: “Maybe he was in love.” The reaction and scoffing sound that came out of my dentist kind of took me by surprise, but I did understand the “Yeah, right” comment that accompanied them. As I sat there trying to dissect the meaning of his reaction, I could only think of the words of the great Don Juan de Marco played by Johnny Depp in the romantic comedy: “What is this thing that happens with age? Why does everyone want to pervert love and, suck it bone dry of all its glory? Why do you bother to call it love anymore?” I definitely need to recommend this movie to my dentist.
Afraid of walking up to a stranger and asking if you can take their picture? Can’t blame you if you are, as it could be a nerve-wracking experience for the non-extroverts amongst us. What people with cameras don’t realize is that the worst that could happen is for you to get a dismissive “no” in the process. Rarely will people show any fangs as part of their answer. My experience has been that while half the people will say no and keep on walking, the other half will gladly say “yes,” if you ask nicely. In fact, for many folks out there minding their own business, your asking is kind of an ego-booster of some sort. People take time to make themselves up as best as possible before going out, and it is not to be visually ignored by the rest of us. As a photographer, you can’t help but notice these fashionistas when you go out. They are different in some visual way: better looking, more colorful, strange, exotic, or simply unique. Whatever the reason, they catch the photographer’s eye, and the often-repeated advice that being nice and showing a sincere interest in them (or what they are doing) will always go a long way in you getting them to agree to have their picture taken. So best to avoid photographic ambushes that give so many photographers a bad reputation and instead give your subjects a little time from your busy photo day. You’ll be amazed at how nice people can be in return, as I discovered with the young woman in the photo.
Running a restaurant is not all Iron Chef stuff. In fact, it is more of a complex mix of grunt work and logistics than the TV shows would lead all of us to believe. To keep these mini-food factories going it takes a lot of supplies and a network of folks who will always be under-appreciated and underpaid. Like in cruise ships, under all the glitter and fresh paint there is a complete underworld of people doing the grunt work of moving supplies, fixing machinery, and washing pots. Not glamorous, but necessary. When you think about it, this whole network of people diligently working from origin to table is really something amazing. It is easy to miss too when we are looking at that menu while trying to decide between the Chilean Sea Bass and the Norwegian Crust Salmon. A cursory look at a map will immediately tell us how far the waters from which the fish was plucked are rather far away, very far away. Just the thought of how many people and resources it has taken for the fish to travel to our table in perfect condition is mind-bogling. But even when we don’t know the route this delicious seafood takes before it gets to sit in front of us covered in butter sauce, I do know that at one of my favorite local restaurants the final leg of this maddening logistics journey is down the sidewalk doors depicted above. And as long as that supply network keeps working the way it is, my days will have more to do with photography than with fishing poles. And that’s a good thing.
One of the best places in Washington, DC for photographers has to be the renovated Georgetown waterfront. In fact, the entire area is one of my favorite places in the district. From the somewhat-secluded Key Bridge Boathouse to the Georgetown Waterfront Park and onto the Embassy of Sweden, this is prime open space in an otherwise cramped city. Bars, restaurants, and an extended riverfront promenade are the perfect ingredients for people-watching and for snapping pictures. And did I mention the view? With the imposing Kennedy Center to one side and the undulating Key Bridge to the other, it is easy to see why you’ll need to save a few million dollars if you want to live in one of the ritzy condos overlooking this section of the Potomac. In fact, with the exception of the relatively new National Harbor development on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, there is no other place like it along the mighty river. Certainly not along the Virginia side, which from a riverside party perspective can be considered to be literally dead. Zap. Nada. I guess Washington does produce some great things after all.
First it was farmers’ markets, then retro camera, and now sewing machines. No matter where you look, old has become new again. Is it mere nostalgia, or is there something deeper going on around us? For starters, enough time has passed since the popularity of these trends to justify the current generation’s fascination with the old technology and the way people used to buy their goods. I can understand that. But today, and like archeological sleuths, trendy city dwellers today seem quite fascinated with “the ways of the old” as if we were talking hundreds of years ago. Retro has become the new buzz word, and anyone who can produce anything with their hands these days (besides typing, of course), is generally hailed as a master craftsperson who can command some good prices for whatever it happens to be that they are producing. Of course, this may have to do with the fact that most of us in the service economy make a living moving data and information from here to there, so anyone that can actually make something is worthy of some level of admiration. I guess times have changed, but I have to admit that seeing technology that was crucial to our lives while growing up being displayed as curious antiques of a bygone era is a little disturbing. When store clerks approach me after they catch me staring at these old items, I immediately try to masquerade my nostalgia by asking: “Hey, what is that?” Now I can only wonder if anyone is buying my line.
Continuing with my theme of recording everyday life around our nation’s capital, I ventured today to the Georgetown neighborhood across the Potomac River to see what people were up to on this warm, summer day. The thing that struck me the most was how sedate Washington, DC is on a Sunday morning. To tell you the truth, not much was happening, and the only church in the area seemed to be suffering from a lack of customers. Admittedly, though, the people who were out and about seemed to be the friendliest I’ve seen in a long time, with one bicycle rider even offering to turn around and retrace his route so that I could compose my photograph better the second time around. Considering that yesterday a gentleman had offered to do things to me with my camera that could get him 30 years in prison, this bicyclist’s generosity definitely restored my faith in humanity. This sort of interaction is what keeps street photographers out there with their cameras, and while recording everyday life in the city is a big part of what we do, so is the great interaction with unique people who are out there living their lives and enjoying a warm, summer day with a smile in their faces. They are what makes going out there with a camera every day such a rewarding experience.