Thursday, March 10, 2011

32: A Breakthrough?

I've been waiting for a chance to drive by this building on a grey day. My first attempt was on a sunny day, and I didn't like the stark shadows created by the gate on the left.

Colorful storage bins at my son's preschool.

I may have had a bit of a breakthrough today. When I walked into the lobby of the post office today, the only person in sight was a man absorbed in preparing his packages. So I took a minute to snap a few shots. Then my daughter and I went up to the empty counter with our own package to mail. I looked around for a bell to ring, but a postal worker appeared from around a corner a moment later. She seemed a little grumpy, though I didn't really think anything of it until she asked what I was taking pictures of before I came up to the counter. I was taken off guard as I didn't realize anyone could see me, and I stammered out the first words that came to mind. "I'm doing a photo-a-day project, with blue as the focus." Her entire demeanor changed in an instant. Suddenly she was friendly, relaxed, interested. We talked a little about some of the other photo subjects, sources of inspiration, the many shades of blue in the world.

As I left the building, I thought about what her reaction means. Rather than feeling nervous that  those around me won't want to get involved in my project, I may be able to use it as a tool for reaching out to others. My husband and I talked just last night about taking pictures in public places, a subject with a lot of grey area for me. Where is the line between "public" and "private," and who "owns" the scene? I worry quite a bit that I am invading other's privacy with my camera, but perhaps all that is needed is to first fill them in a little on my project.

This all relates back to my performance anxiety about taking pictures. The conversation with the postal worker today helped me break down that anxiety into some of its components, and to see the issue from a different angle. As I walked out of the post office and saw this bike chained to a sign post out front, I worried a little less about whether the owner of the bicycle was within viewing distance of the scene, and a little more about how best to capture their beautiful blue bike  in this particular moment.


  1. Congratulations! People are almost always friendly once they understand what's going on, and photography is such a great conversation starter. Keep pushing your comfort levels outward!

  2. Neat. Sounds like a great breakthrough.

  3. What a great story!
    Your experience reminds me of some things I've read about Street Photography. The best one: Be respectful. ...not too worried about that one with you.

    Know what you are going to do if someone does not like what you are photographing. Be ready to stop photographing or even delete the shot. If upset, a lot of people cool down once they realize what you are doing. Some photographers even carry around a card with a link to where the photograph will be if someone wants to see the finished product.

    Being prepared can give you the confidence you need for some great shots.

  4. Thanks, guys. :D Great tips there, Charles. Having a plan and carrying a card with the link are two things that occurred to me as I was driving home yesterday. I am certainly going places I never expected to go to, emotionally, and stretching my sense of self-identity.

    And what about the prices of the PO boxes? They're all $0. What's the sign for, really?

  5. what a great experience! i was looking forward to seeing how you worked thru this anxiety when u first mentioned it, and i'm so glad to c u sharing it here. i imagine i'd be wary at first, and ultimately flattered if someone explained to me y they wanted a pic of something of mine. it would bring out the exhibitionist in me.

  6. Someone gave up on the PO boxes, but you can see necessary repairs were made over time. Even the mismatched door has the original border pattern. A good cleaning would go a long way.

    I think I understand the prices. Whoever is in charge of them got a price change and said, "What?! I just changed that sign LAST year. People can just ask for the price."

    My inner OCD wants to go right that upside-down "available". Does someone walk by that every day, knowing but not caring it is there? ...or does some mischievous anarchist flip it over, just to mess with me?

  7. Ha! I hadn't noticed the upside down available.

  8. That first photo was worth the wait! I love it!

    I actually really like the available being upside down. That is something that I would note every time I walked in, like a visual friend. I sort of collect things like that: paint cracks and chips and plants growing out of concrete. When things like that are corrected, it breaks my heart a little.

  9. I really like that perspective, Madonna.

  10. I know what you mean about public photography. I lived in NYC after 9/11 and there was a whole movement between the MTA and photographers because they told photographers they couldn't shoot in the subways or buses anymore due to security concerns.

    I have the same hesitancy about shooting strangers. I'm just not quite there yet in being about to ask to photograph someone...