This image of a woman lit by votives was taken in Stephansdom, a cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Although I was a bit conflicted about disrupting her moment of reflection and invading her privacy, it clearly wasn’t much of a deterrent. I took this image about 18 months ago but didn’t really think much of it until I was doing some image library housekeeping (which is never-ending) this weekend. Yet another example of something that really appeals to me now but not so much back then. Or maybe I’m just rationalizing the fact that I’m horrible at deleting images that clearly won’t ever see the light of day.
I know I should delete more photos. I know it. Dealing with too many at once slows down my machine, I can’t tag them all before filing them away, and literally 95 out of 100 never get seen more than once. But every deletion party has its rediscoveries. Moment’s when I wonder what I was thinking to have passed over a certain shot the first time around. Maybe I thought another in the series was better. Or it wasn’t what I thought the client might like. Or maybe I’m just in a different mood. While deleting 1200+ images last night, as each called out to be spared for the chance at a future moment of fickle fondness, I was stopped in my tracks by this portrait. The wall’s textures, the dramatic shadows, the highlights in Lisa’s hair…I love it all. For some reason, I moved right past it the first time around. It didn’t even make it to the second round. Totally unconsidered. Oh well. Today, its a winner. I can’t say that my mood always impacts what I like to look at, but what I just described happens often enough for me to know that it definitely plays a part. And that’s one of the things that I love about photography…one of its most powerful little secrets. Like any language, you can learn as much or more about the person behind the camera as the subject if you “talk” to their photos long enough.
This week, another in a line of questionable (to put it nicely) things happened. Someone pretty senior at my company, at least two levels about me, saw me with my black skullcap on and said, “Why are you wearing that hat? You look like a hoodlum. You look like one of kids in this neighborhood.” In my mind, she made a total ass of herself. I’ve written plenty about situations like these and how I have handled them in the past. In fact, in my first month at the company, someone made what I considered an inappropriate comment to get a laugh (which they did). I wrote about that incident in my 365 journal. This time, I just raised my hand, as if to say ‘You’ve said enough. Really.’ But I actually said, “I’m going to choose to walk away and ignore the words you just said.” Her response: “Oh, was that a racist comment?” What I WANTED to reply was: “If you have to ask…you already know better. So yes, its clearly a racist comment. And if you’d like to talk about this any more, I’m going to need our VP of HR in the room. For now, I’m leaving.” But what I actually did was just repeat myself. I posted the incident on my Facebook page and got lots of responses…most of them sympathetic (including my sister clearly “winning” the sibling rivalry for worst workplace insult by sharing that her boss had once called her Buckwheat). But the most interesting comments were from those who seemed completely shocked that people at my job have such racist attitudes. “Where do you work?!?” was one of the responses I got. Well, I work in America. Where there is plenty of prejudice to go around. And I would bet that most of us have ready access to people who posses racist attitudes. That’s a fact of life. But racist attitudes are different from racist behavior or racist statements. The latter are not things I can tolerate in silence. So I say something at work. And I share on Facebook, in public, where coworkers can see how I feel. It helps me stay focused on my personal priorities and hopefully sets an expectation that keeps me sane and excited about showing up everyday. And hopefully it means that I don’t wake up thinking about it or worry about managing someone else’s comfort when I see them at the office (I woke up thinking about this on Friday and found myself going out of my way to make sure she was comfortable around me when I saw her later in the day…there is not enough space on the page to get into what I think about that phenomenon, but I will just say that its a big part of why all this feels mentally burdensome). But even after I came home, I was still thinking about it. So, I’m hoping a little photographic therapy is just what I need. As for the attitudes…behavior is one thing, but trying to impact racist attitudes is, in my experience, a far more difficult and emotionally taxing endeavor (as we saw during last year’s Professor Gates debacle), and I don’t even think about trying to do it at work. I just feel like I need to ask for the baseline level of respect to which we’re all entitled. And that does not include being compared, in any way, to someone’s notion of a hoodlum.