It is a rare moment when the largest library institution in the world, the Library of Congress, opens the doors to its Main Reading Room at the Thomas Jefferson Building to the general public. In fact, it only happens a couple of times a year, but most people (including myself) generally miss it because the news surrounding these rare events tends to be about as low-keyed as you can get. After all, these library folks are not the kind of folks you will generally encounter down in Rio de Janeiro letting loose during Mardi Gras. So when I received an early-morning text from a great photographer friend yesterday asking if I was interested in heading up to Capitol Hill with our cameras, the offer was impossible to resist. Low light, no tripods allowed, and surely lots of folks ready to photo-bomb your shots. No problem, and away we went.
To say that the the Main Reading Room is an impressive place would be a gross understatement. Entering this imposing Beaux Arts room with its incredibly ornamented dome rising about 160 feet from the ground is quite an event in-an-of-itself. It is reminiscent to the experience of entering a Renaissance church in Florence and suddenly been overtaken by a magnificent view you could not have foreseen prior to entering the building. But as beautiful as the scene was, photographing the place was to prove a bit of a challenge. There were people, and photographers of all kinds, all over the place. No one (including yours truly) wanted to miss out on this rare opportunity, and at times it was as if photographers and visitors were engaging in a hastily choreographed, chaotic dance without a dance director. In this environment, timing, patience, and a steady hand to compensate for the lack of a tripod (generally forbidden, but possible to get permission if you plan way ahead and are willing to grow old in the process) were key to getting a decent photograph.
And then there was the low light, which for a Leica rangefinder shooter trying to focus manually in a darkish room does not lead to a match made in heaven. So out came the external Leica EVF adapter, and just like that, I could suddenly focus in the dark. I suddenly felt better about having had to sell an organ to pay for the darn contraption. Now I just have to work on developing the smooth breathing rhythm of a zen monk in deep meditation before I press that shutter release. No doubt this is easier said than done.
Remember the old movie houses with their unique facades and the aroma of freshly-popped popcorn that spilled into the street? I think most people in America over 30 do, but sadly, these architectural landmarks are growingly been converted into all sorts of venues, from clothing stores to mini-shopping malls. The phenomena could be a bit more pronounced in larger cities than in small-town America, but the trend has not been a good one for these venues for a long time. That’s a pity, because the charm and feeling of these old structures will never be reproduced by today’s Megaplex theaters offering 16 to 24 movies under a single roof.
There seem to be many reasons for this gradual disappearance. For starters, the paying customers that continue to go to movies obviously want choices, and lots of them. Stadium seating where someone’s head in front of you is not blocking part of the screen? Check. Access to the latest movies on the first day of their release? Check again. Video game machines, ATM’s, and self-service ticket dispenser? No problem. Unfortunately, all of this comes at a price. Don’t know about you, but I still love having to stand in line to buy a ticket from a person inside that colorful ticket booth. And what about the flashing lights outside the theater at night? Those are great too. But more than that, these places have a kind of personality and character that modern concrete boxes can only dream of. One single show every evening. Why not? After all, a little simplicity may just be what we all need in our über busy lives.
Do you idle? That is, do you ever have those moments in your daily life when your time is not filled with activity? In an attempt to see if folks out there were into this idling thing, I went out with my camera recently to find out. My goal was to find something akin to the contemplative lifestyle out there, if at all possible. Now, I do realize that “idling” as an adjective kind of implies an activity in of itself, but the kind of scene I had in mind had more to do with exactly the opposite: the absence of activity. So armed with the “not spent or filled with activity” dictionary definition, out I went at the end of the day when people were supposed to be done with work for the day.
The result? I couldn’t find anyone really idling, as per the dictionary’s definition. The folks in the photographs were the closest I could find, and as you can see, cell phone technology pretty much did away with all that idling witchcraft. In fact, this technology has redefined this whole idea of “relaxing.” Ever heard anyone say, “I find this whole idea of relaxing too stressful?” I have, and the more I think of it, the more I’m beginning to convince myself that there’s something to that statement. Otherwise, how could I explain that after a whole day of work I was out “relaxing” with my camera. Are we doomed? I hope not. After all, one’s got to have something to look forward to.