One of the joys of carrying a camera is noticing things that would otherwise escape notice. Some of them may be very small while others are insignificant. Other photos happen because the light is just right, the shadows intriguing or the shapes fascinating. Back when I first started taking photos thanks to the example of Barry Slaven, MD, a classmate at Temple Medical, I used a Canon AE-1. It was a terrific camera and weighed a ton (relatively speaking). Once a roll of film was popped in the back that was the format to stay with. Black and white. High speed. Slow speed. Slide. Kodachrome (can you spell Simon and Garfunklel?). Ektachrome. And so on. Now with photo processing software a so-so shot in color can become a study in texture or shape when changed to black and white. Contrast can be heightened. Colors can be enhanced, toned down or changed (within limits). The Aperture 3 program has an option correct for under or over exposure. It is easy to spend hours with one hand on the mouse and the eyes glued to the screen tweaking photo after photo.
Photographs can be a subject for contemplation; more contemporary than icons and much more personal. They can, of course, decorate. They are history both frozen in a moment of time and, when studied, history projected into the future.
The other day I celebrated the public Mass. The homily turned on the book of photographs and essays titled Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The homily is attached at the end of the entry, after the photographs. That book was one amazing use of photography.
Here are some photos of things I simply noticed and happened to have the camera on hand. . Then the homily from the 8th Friday in ordinary time (and the Last Friday in ordinary time for a while given that Ash Wednesday is in three days). NOTE: Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence. Get those pierogi that you’ve been saving since Christmas out of the freezer Tuesday night. You may eat only four. Unless they're small.
The first photo is a large ficus-like tree at the retreat house in Changhwa, Taiwan. Loved the colored stones that look like jumbo Pop-rocks (remember those?).
Some stuffed pandas in a furniture store on Roosevelt Road in Taipei. This struck me while walking between Tien Center and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Polarizing the photo minimized the glare from the glass.
This is the sort of goofy stuff it is fun to notice. These were workman's gloves in a small park in Taiwan, somewhere in Changhwa County. I think I took about 13 shots under different exposures etc.
The beach at Gerroa late on Sunday afternoon. The colors were naturally nice but I will admit to tweaking them a bit with the processing software to increase the saturation and intensity of the reds and blues.
This is the shadow of trees on a very old window shade in the hallway between my room here and the chapel balcony. I was going to Mass when I saw this. As it is only about 10 feet (can't get the hang of meters) from my room I grabbed the camera and went back. As I approached the chapel I saw the photo below that is the perfect essay of a life well-lived in the Society of Jesus.
Then there is black and white. This bike was parked in the weeds near the river in Taipei for a bit too long.
The photo below is from the last day at Gerroa. It was just after sunrise and I was walking back toward the house. I like it a lot better in black and white than the original color.
And then there were the broken tiles that seem to have washed ashore.
When it comes to small things, check this out. The spider was just beginning to spin a web from the arm of a chair on the deck. I was sitting nearby editing some writing and happened to have the camera when I noticed the little dude. Look closely and you can see the beginning of his web. Couldn't capture the pic as he descended toward the ground while spinning the silk. A bit too much wind.
This next to last photo is one I took about a year ago in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The light was hitting just so. I cropped it to remove an unwanted moving figure. This was the right place at the right time.
I did not take the last one. But it fits with the idea that a photo is history that is also projected into the future. It is also my favorite photo of me. It was taken during ordination in June 2007. I'm in the middle. Some of the men in the background are among my closest friends. And you can't see mom who would be just behind Ann-Michelle who is kneeling. This one sits on my desk.
And finally, the homily that is indirectly about photography.
8th Friday in Ordinary Time
4 March 2011
Anonymity: The quality or state of being unknown or unacknowledged. With few exceptions we are all anonymous. We are anonymous outside a very small circle of family, friends and associates. And, we will remain anonymous until death, the ultimate anonymity when viewed through human eyes.
One of the first things we learned in Scripture 101 during theology school was that whenever interpreting a scriptural text, read more than one translation. That is excellent advice in light of today’s first reading. In both the Revised Standard Version and the King James Version of the Bible, the first verse from Sirach—also knows as Ecclesiasticus—is translated not as illustrious men but as, “Let us now praise famous men.” This verse was used in ironic, but not sarcastic, fashion as the title of a 1941 book of photographs by Walker Evans and essays by James Agee.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men documented the lives of three desperately poor sharecropper families in the Deep South at the height of the depression in 1936. They suffered the additional indignity of having had their real names changed so as to further obscure identities that were, if truth be told, already obscure and anonymous.
In this case the pictures are worth a thousand words, many more thousands of words than those written by Agee. It is a painful and squirm-inducing book. Many of the photographs are available on the internet. Some of them hold iconic status in the world of photography.
The anonymity of these sharecropper families does not mean that they were ineffective or had no lasting influence, or that their lives had no lasting meaning. It merely means that they lived and died unknown. Just as we will live mostly anonymous lives and die to be forgotten.
But, our ultimate anonymity does not mean lack of posterity.It does not mean non-generativity. Sirach goes on: “Their offspring will last forever, their glory will not fade. . . . Their descendants stand by the covenants
We are non-generative, we leave nothing behind, only if we chose and strive mightily to do so. We are all called to generativity, to a posterity that may or may not include biological offspring.
The great psychologist Erik Erikson defined generativity as: concern with the next generation, the virtue of caring and connection to generations to come, a love given without expectations of a specific return.
Concern with the next generation.
Caring and connection with generations to come.
Love given without expectations of a specific return.
That is what we are called to. A calling that we can only fulfill imperfectly at best.
Concern with the next generation.
Care and connection with unknown and unnumbered generations yet to come.
Love given without expectation of a specific return.
That. . . .
is what God does perfectly.