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Saturday, January 29, 2005


Writing Triggered by Photography

I've been thinking . . . is it possible that the pictures people take define important qualities in them? I wonder if, for instance, people who photograph only things -- whether animal, vegetable or mineral -- are people-phobic? Or, conversely, do people who photograph only people have some need to connect and can do so only through the lens of a camera?

In my long career as a psychotherapist, I have tried to avoid stereotyping people. Sometimes, the kid drawing with the black crayon is doing so because it was the only color left in the box or perhaps he is colorblind. However, sometimes it is also true that the representations we take from the world are driven by some deeper force within us and our choices are shawowed by our inner needs.

For me, photography, like writing, is a window into my creative process. I take pictures of people, places and things that interest me. The interest is momentary and forgotten when I move on to the next shutter-blink. Later, when I download the pictures, some of them trigger a deeper process and this is where it cross-fertilizies my writing. It may be the look in the eye of the stranger whose picture I took. It may be the juxtaposition of incongruent elements that I didn't notice when I took the shot. Also, for me, enlarging an image and fixing it in space allows me to see elements that my poor vision doesn't allow. On top of the other insults of aging, I am becoming quite nearsighted -- not enough so that I can't drive or spot an obstacle in my path, albeit, the smaller obstacles are shifting into a blurry haze. Once an idea emerges from the photograph, I am usually able to write something thast I otherwise wouldn't have written.

Last year, I took up photography as something to do with my time. I was forced into retirement by a collapsed knee, and after a long career working on the cusp of danger I found myself adrift. My photographing began with pictures of my son's and granddaughter's band. For a while, that seemed to satisfy my need but I was a redundancy at their shows and I knew it. I began photographing whatever crossed my range of vision and suddenly, the pictures began triggering observations beyond their content. I began writing from a creative flow that has been dormant in me for over a decade.

A photograph is often a moment seen and captured with intent. If I lived in NYC, I would want to find a way to focus a camera on a fixed point on a busy street and take a picture every forty-five seconds. In jest, I could assert that most of the people in the world would sooner or later be photographed passing that point. That cocept os a takeoff on an egocentric New York saying, "If you stand at the intersection of Broadway and Forty-Second Street long enough, you will meet everyone in the world."

When I communicate with friends, I often plant the seeds of my writing in a letter or e-mail. That is how I discovered the takeoff point for today's essay. I was commenting on the process of taking pictures and the idea struck me that people can be defined in part by the pictures they take. When I wrote for publication, my best work often began as snippets in letters or e-mails to friends and then was expanded into stories, essays . . . whatever might flow after the initial jolt.

Now, I live in the realm of self-discovery. Perhaps it is because I have nothing else to do. Perhaps it is because if I don't write at least a few words each day I will suffer the kind of 'petitte morte' that disempowers me.

This stream of abstract thinking began when I decided I needed change in my life. It focused when I decided that I had to leave my present environs and move to someplace new and captivating. What I am doing metaphorically is saving my life. When I existed in the working world, a home was simply a convenient place from which to go to work and earlier, to send the kids to school. Now it can be either my prison or my launchpad. Most of the people who were most important in my life are now but memories and old pictures. My son is out in the world -- a touring musician. My wife is enmeshed in the latter stages of her career. I am adrift. I found a place where I can come alive with the rhythms of a music I have, thus far in my life, heard only in my soul.

I don't know where my wanderings will take me. Last year I decided that I would see the world and spent a nice piece of time in Rio/Copacabana. My adventures there might be worthy of a few good stories. I have yet to write them. In the spring, I am going to Paris. That is returnming to an old dream in a new format. I love Paris for its charm and history and beauty. At the same time I hate it for its bigotry and xenophobia. But I am drawn back as if by a magnet. I am 200 years too late to see the tumbrills rolling from the Bastille to the Guillotine but I fancy myself in the role of D'Artanian . . . or perhaps Robespierre!

In the end, what do we really have but dreams and wishes. Reality is repetitive actions meant to put food on the table. Once you no longer have to work to do so, life is open space that might be filled with dreams and wishes and give some satisfaction before they turn out the lights.

I live to write. I write to communicate. Words, words, words . . .

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