Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Staring Problem

"It's not nice to stare at people" is something I heard more than once as a child. Maybe part of it comes from being a writer, but I'm a people-watcher from way back. Put me in a high traffic area, and I can entertain myself for hours studying the characters passing by. Beautiful, unfortunate looking, it's all the same to me. I love to look at the way their faces fit together, their wardrobe choices, mannerisms, expressions. In my head, I make up stories about them, who they are, and where they might be going.

New places especially bring this out in me. A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days in Chicago visiting my brother. We took the L or walked everywhere, and during those times, I saw some of the most interesting people. Ordinarily, words are my preferred artistic medium, but I found myself wishing I had a camera to capture some of these unique images. A big camera, of course, so I could pass for a photo journalist, instead of some weirdo taking pictures of strangers.

There's something compelling about photography. If I describe the scenes and characters for you, you will (hopefully) have a vivid mental image of what I've described, but you only get to see as much as I've described. And unless my description is carefully sterile and objective, the way I choose to describe the scene will affect what you see. With a photo, there's the possibility for you to imagine your own version of the unspoken narrative.

That said, I don't know the first thing about photography. I'm not even sure I have the desire to learn. So here's my word photo album from the last few weeks.

A mylar balloon bouquet tangled in the powerlines high above the hub bub of Dressel's patio on Saturday night, sparkling in the street lights against the backdrop of the late night sky.

A young mother in a cool white ankle-length skirt,walking down Halsted on the way to the corner bus stop, holding the hand of a dark-haired toddler dragging a golden teddy bear by one hand along the cement.

A couple waiting for the L, late on a humid Saturday night, facing each other, her arms around his neck. Both were clad entirely in black leather outfits and accessories that made me think of dungeons and whips. Her face looked too old for a mini dress and platform thigh-high boots. They didn't seem to notice the temperature or anyone else on the platform.

A woman in her mid-thirties, in khaki pants, white t-shirt, and flip flops, slouching in her seat on the train, talking loudly on her Blackberry. "No, she reached over and grabbed what she thought was a bottle of water and took a big gulp and spewed it out all over the place. Yeah, it was tequila....Lynard Skynard? Who's he? Yeah, I'd go to that show."

Some of the best people sightings were on the roof of some friends' apartment building. The surrounding structures towered on three sides of the roof-top deck. The thousands of uncurtained windows rising up around me were like so many movie screens. A middle aged woman was making a late night pasta dinner with red sauce and fresh garlic. A group of teenagers played what must have been Wii tennis (although I couldn't see their televisions, only their movements). From behind a shade, one shadow press another against the glass. A cat stared back down at me from another window. The stars barely glistened past the electric lights and haze.

It's a good thing I don't live in a high rise.

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