Stop What You’re Doing and See

Photos. Everybody takes them. Everybody views them. The world is full of them. But why do we take them? What draws us to one still image of someone or something? Do they make us think and react a certain way? Or do we take them so we can show off what we’re doing, or wearing, or not wearing on social media just to wait and see if our “like” count will rise higher and higher.

I find that there’s something else in photos. Something more.

It wasn’t long ago this great big epiphany came over me. It was like the heavens opened up with a great big beaming light shining directly into my face. I may have even heard a loud, baritone voice telling me, “Hey chump, stop what you’re fucking doing and see…” Then, within seconds everything went away. Zap. Zoom. Like a snap of a finger and, poof, gone. And there I stood, baffled, trying to make sense of what happened.

Stop what I’m fucking doing and see…? Really? What was I supposed to see? What did it all mean?

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Just as my mind was racing through these exact thoughts, I noticed something floating down ever so gently from above. As it made it’s decent down and hit the ground a few inches away from my feet, I noticed it was some sort of paper. I picked it up. Slowly… Cautiously…

It was a photo.

It wasn’t just any old photo. This was a photo of a world that was. A photo of a person that once existed decades ago taking a stroll down the street. His face dirty and wrinkled. Others walked behind him. Women. Children. All of them going about their own ways. Living their own lives. This told a story. It captured one fraction of a second with only one snap. It froze time then and there. And there I was, holding that image in my hand in awe. A document of the past. Decades in the future.

This is the power of a photo.

Now I want to come clean and confess about the situation that I presented to you just now. It was mostly fictional. The heaven’s didn’t really open up. I didn’t really hear a voice from above. Nor did a photo float down from the sky. And yes, I gave a general description of a photo of the past, but I could assure you that I have seen countless photos similar to the one I just described. And shit yes, I saw.

I saw the beauty of it all. It transformed me to that time and brought me right along. It made me feel. We don’t necessarily need time traveling devices to bring us to the past. We already have them with photos. Give me a box of photo prints from our master street photographers of the past (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Walker Evans, André Kertész, etc.) and I’ll be lost in time. The photos will speak to me, and I will see.

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So yes, I did have an epiphany of sorts. I realized, what if I got my hands on a camera myself? I always wanted one, but never really thought photography was my thing. I was more into video, movie making, and storytelling, which I still sort of am, but there was something I discovered that just drew me more and more into photography. It opened up a whole new world for me and I began to see things differently. You certainly can tell a story with one single frame. What the story is, that is up to you.

That’s art. That’s storytelling. That’s photography. And that, my friends, is what I see.