Today, I got in touch with my inner child. You know the one, that one which lives inside us all and which at times surprises us at the most unexpected moments. It lies dormant, and more-often-than-not suppressed, in some locked chamber inside our hearts. We are conscious of its presence while it lingers unattended under the watchful eye of those merciless wardens of our so-called happiness, adulthood and correctness. But try as they may on days like these, those vicious suppressors of spontaneity and childhood innocence lie helpless before the sight of hundreds of kites slicing their way through the April sky above the blooming blossoms of a glorious spring day. No chance, none at all.
That is because today was a special day, the day in which the great Smithsonian Institution celebrates the annual Blossom Kite Festival. Colorful flying machines flying in all directions with a cloudy canvas as a backdrop. Children whose eyes rarely left the sky while their parents desperately tried their best at a two-minute crash course on flying the unruly kites. Entanglements as common as the acrobatic displays by the most experienced flyers. Big kites, small kites, kites without a tail, kites with flags, and the wonderment of thousands of people who could not conceive of missing an event like this. And yes, there on that grassy field of wonders, someone I knew from my childhood showed up, unannounced and marveling at the celestial spectacle as he has once marveled on a land so very far away. He didn’t stay long, but long enough to remind me that flying a kite has never been about expertise, but rather about letting your dreams soar way up into the skies and then fighting like hell to keep them there for as long as you can. Something the me now sometimes forgets, but something the me then always remembered. And that’s what great days are made of.
What can you say about the yearly H Street Festival downtown Washington, DC. Have I mentioned before that this is by far my favorite street festival in the area? Well, it is, and every year I go back to take some pictures and to enjoy the music, the incredible restaurants, and above all, the laid-back party atmosphere at the place. Apparently I’m not alone in thinking that way, as judging by the wall-to-wall crowds, this must be one of the best attended festival in DC. Not served by a metro station and somewhat out-of-the-way from the tourist areas in the city, H Street is one of those places that you reach by either intentionally walking there for a reason (and there are many reasons to visit) or simply by getting lost. But no one has problems finding the place in September, when masses of revelers and artists descend on the neighborhood for a cultural festival like no other in this town of buttoned-up politicians. Boasting some of the best ethnic restaurants in town, H Street more than makes up for its otherwise glamorous-challenged existence by becoming party central for a day. That the festival happens to coincide with the start of the famous Oktoberfest in Munich is even better, because just like in that great German festival, the folks at H Street never run out of beer either.
Ever feel that you got to a place a few decades too late? Well, I do, and that place is indeed the SoHo neighborhood in New York City. Not that I could hang out with the local fashionistas that strut the local streets looking “mahvelous,” but rather that upon setting foot on the place I had that all-too-common feeling of having arrived late to a party. I’ve been hearing about SoHo for far too long now, but for some reason or another (OK, like most tourists) I have primarily limited myself to mid-Manhattan and other “have been” attractions like Little Italy and Chinatown during previous visits. This was a serious mistake that I do not intend to repeat, though. In fact, several years ago I made the decision to leave most tourist places to time-starved tourist and just head out to the neighborhoods where no tourist buses are to be found. But this I applied mostly to cities abroad like Paris, Rome, and Berlin. One day in SoHo has made me realize that I need to do the same at home.
But I just didn’t just wake up one day and decided to go to SoHo. I was there to spend the day with the great folks of The Leica Meet group, who were being graciously hosted by the Leica store at 460 West Broadway. The people at the Leica store simply hit it out of the park with their great support for this event. Not only did they allowed the group to use their store facilities for the day, but they also coordinated a wonderful group lunch at the Hundred Acres Restaurant & Bar, followed by a visit with various great Leica photographers like Ralph Gibson and Adam Marelli. This sense of community is something that other camera manufacturers can only dream of, and SoHo was just the perfect setting for the event. It’s definitely great to discover a few more good reasons to visit the city that never sleeps more often – like taking a creativity vitamin, which I dare say, we all could use from time to time. I know I do.
I love PhotoWeek DC. Maybe I should restate that: I love everything PhotoWeek DC stands for. Since 2008 some very hard-working group of folks have labored intensely to bring us this celebration of all things photography, with tens of exhibits around town and lectures galore by talented photographers that are pushing the boundaries of their creative and business talents. All of us living in the DC metropolitan area who spend endless hours behind our cameras should feel very fortunate to have such a festival right here in our back yard, and we do. Nevertheless, recent developments in the world of photography have made me wonder whether there are some aspects of photography that are not receiving their fare share of time at these gatherings. Put another way, I’m beginning to wonder whether the world of large prints, large cameras, and traditional portfolio review sessions continues to be emphasized in photo festivals as a defense mechanism against the emerging world of stock photo agencies, Tweeter, Instagram, and digital publications.
There is no doubt that today everyone seems to be a photographer. And without getting into the never-ending professional vs. amateur argument (which by the way is a fruitless discussion, as a good photograph is a good photograph no matter who takes it), it appears that some leading national magazines out there are pulling the rug from under the professional photographers’ feet by growingly getting their photos from everything from stock photo agencies to Instagram. Case in point: the recent (and controversial) Instagram cover photo on Time Magazine. Now, I don’t know that this is the future or anything like that, but judging from the vitriolic complaints about Time Magazine’s moves coming from professional photojournalists, this must be a really sensitive subject, to say the least. An amateur with an iPhone or one of those point-and-shoot cameras getting published on the cover of Time Magazine? Heresy. Unconscionable. The death of quality photography. You name it; it’s been said. And yet, photography continues to be all about “being there.” That is, about capturing a moment that has some sort of meaning to those looking at the photograph. What you use to capture this moment really doesn’t matter at the end. The videos and photos of Muammar Gaddafi during his last minutes on earth are no less valuable (or powerfull) as historical documents as a result of being recorded on a cell phone. In fact, it could be argued that as photography becomes more secularized, as evidenced by the widespread use of simpler and easily-transportable recording devices, the world of photography will be transformed in new and incredible creative ways. Chase Jarvis, the incredibly talented photographer, alludes to this new world of possibilities on a constant basis. Even though he sits at the top of his professional photographic career, he continues to preach the mantra that the best camera is the one that is with you when that great photo opportunity shows up. In fact, Chase celebrates all that is new and innovative in the creative arts, and that probably explains a lot of his success and his large number of followers. The photo industry (and yes, some photo shows and festivals) have yet to catch up to Chase and the legions of amateurs and Instagramers who roam the world and who by virtue of simply “being there” are the ones capturing great footage of events while they are happening. At the end of the day my friend, and as it has been from time immemorial, getting that picture is all that matters.