Paris? Kyoto? Florence? Of course. Washington, DC? Really? Yes, really. Like those magnificent cities east and west of us, this city by the river undergoes a major transformation with the arrival of spring. I’m even tempted to say that the city, and in some very dramatic way, gets in touch with its sensitive side. Even the light is transformed during this time of the year, with grey, overcast days giving way to skies that are so blue that you could be forgiven for thinking you were staring at the heavens in Provence. The longish days, with their mellow temperatures and orange morning light, are nothing short of nature’s unabashed public display of affection for us all. And everywhere you look, from the small John Marshall Place Park along Pennsylvania Avenue, to the mighty Capitol grounds, and beyond to the breathtaking Cherry Blossoms lining the Tidal Basin, you are rewarded by nature’s unselfish color spectacle. In this light, and under endless pink canopies that nature so graciously has shared with us for too brief a moment, it is easy to forget Paris, Kyoto, and Florence. In fact, they never came to mind. I had my city instead.
Sometimes I wonder if I was meant to live part of my life in an underpass under some road. Not that I would look forward to cuddling-up every night in such a place with all my possessions stacked in a shopping cart, but rather that I have developed this fascination with what lies underneath all those crossroads we mindlessly travel every day in our hurry to get somewhere. Let’s just say that the moment I see an underpass these days, I immediately start exploring its magnificent under-structure with the fascination of a structural engineer. Of course, my interest is somewhat more artistic in nature, but the surprises I keep finding under these metal and concrete monuments to modern engineering never cease to amaze me. It is like finding a painting inside a dusty cave in the middle of nowhere. I can’t stop wondering about the people who painted murals like these in such meticulous detail. Where they famous artists within the community? Does anyone remember them now? What message was being conveyed by the artistic choices made? Of course, some of these questions are easier to answer than others, or to imagine for that matter. But perhaps too much information is not what matters here. After all, don’t we enjoy museum masterpieces before we ever discover who painted them? Perhaps all that matters then is that some artist whom we shall never meet has managed to touch our lives in some incredible way, and in the most unlikely of places. And it doesn’t get much more “unlikely” than the I-695 underpass by 8th Street SE in our nation’s capital.
Over the years I have grown convinced that the magic of photography has more to do with perspective and composition than with pixel perfection. Of course, you wouldn’t know this from the thousands of photo blogs on the Internet that dedicate most of their real estate to elaborate technical discussions of sharpness charts, extreme high ISO grain differences, and shutter burst speeds. Not that talking about any of this is a bad thing, or that such considerations are irrelevant to good photography. However, the point is that for the consumer (and we are all consumers), what makes a good photo is not its technical perfection, but rather the feelings that it evokes. That is why we still like grainy street photography so much, or why we can’t stop looking at the human condition as captured by photojournalists all around the world. For the general public to enjoy what they see on a photograph, they must connect with the photo in some very personal way. Solitude. Loneliness. Pity. Anger. Disgust. Happiness. Love. Surprise. You name it, but it has to be there. It is the reaction that comes from observing what is happening within that “human stage” depicted on the photo, rather than the photo’s technical perfection, that will determine the value of the photograph for the consumer. So, less worrying about perfection and more worrying about great composition is a great start to producing great photographs.