As I walk around all sorts of cities during my endless photo walkabouts, I can’t help but notice the sheer number of people I see alone. No, I’m not referring to the millions who go about their days moving from point A to point B as they go about their normal workdays, but rather I’m referring to those who are “really” alone, as if “I’m here all by myself” type of alone. So, unable to stop my mind from wondering what may be going through these solo souls’ minds during their personal walkabouts, I have begun to dwell on all sort of things relating to loneliness, companionship, and solitude. No, I’m not loosing my mind or plan to give up photography for psychiatry, but rather that when I’m alone out there (camera in hand), I always wonder whether my fellow lone riders are enjoying the “life less interrupted” as much as I am.
“Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.” … Paul Tillich
From the little I can gather, it seems that people need as much time alone as they need the company of others. Call it a recharge, a moment to gather our thoughts, or whatever. And even when the line between loneliness and solitude is a blury one at best, somehow we all kind of know when we have crossed it. Ideally, that transition from one side of that undefined line to the other is a voluntary, and timely, one. That seems to be the implication of Tillich’s quote above. Choice, then, appears to be at the core of human ability to temporarily disengage, to fly alone, and to find meaning in the things around us. It is in that seemingly empty, yet rich space where we can get back to the basics of our humanity. And what emerges from that brief moment of solitude is a better person, a more fulfilled person, who’s time alone will make the company of others that much more enjoyable.
Don’t know about you, but for me, Philadelphia has to be one of the most incredible cities in America. And while the city has a somewhat “working class” reputation with outsiders, once you get to discover it in some detail, you’ll come to realize that the city is better described as eclectic and culturally complex. Sort of like where the rough seas meet the quiet shore kind of place. World class museums and cultural sites sit only a few blocks away from down-to-earth wonders like the Reading Terminal Market. Hang around the popular JFK Square for a few hours and you’ll get to see people from just about every level of society. Wedding parties having their picture taken under the famous “LOVE” structure at JFK Square muscle endless amounts of tourists for their ten-minute spot in front of the cameras. Walk farther afield down Walnut St. to Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square Park and you will be rewarded with some of the neatest urban spots of any city anywhere. Add to this the fact that people actually live and interact all over the urban landscape, and you will get one of the best places for people watching and street photography on the East Coast. Philly is definitely not your sleepy, little town where watching grass grow has been elevated to an art form. The city is definitely alive with activity, and no matter your disposition when you get there, you won’t be able to resist becoming alive along with it.
Rain or shine, you see them outside many downtown Metro stops, reading maps with tourists and pointing in every direction possible. They are the men and women in red and blue, Metro employees who’s friendly attitude and willingness to assist visitors with whatever they need puts them in direct contrast with local bureaucrats who buzz right past you without even noticing whether you’re still breathing. Because of their uniforms, some people may think they are security officers, but take the time to talk to them and you’ll find some of the nicest people you will encounter anywhere inside the Beltway. Washingtonians who actually look forward to talking to you, who would’ve known.
Thought I’d share with you some street scenes from Krakow, Poland. For a street photographer, Krakow’s Old Town is about as close to heaven as you can get. During the summer months its streets are filled with people at all hours of the day. And while a great number of them are no doubt tourists, locals are also up-and-about in great numbers. No doubt the extensive pedestrian-only zones have something to do with this, as well as the feeling of relief from the long Polish winters. But they are out there, and to see thousands of people at sidewalk cafes and restaurants past 10:00 PM at night, is quite impressive. The crowds are also quite photo-friendly, or put another way, they don’t scold you for taking a photo as they do in other parts of the world, which is kind of nice. And yes, I did try to give these photographs a somewhat older-looking feeling by applying a few filters during post-processing, but I hope that didn’t detract too much from the scenes.