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I’m reminded of a  line  from a poem by e. e. cummings, “maunkind”: man, the narrator comments, “plays with bigness of his littleness .”   I wasn’t expecting anything to come this shot of an off-ramp in nearby Irving, Texas.  I was out with a group of other amateur photographers who seemed to be having a much easier time than I was finding subjects to shoot in the midst of what to me felt like a too-modern, too-new concrete jungle set along too-perfectly formed artificial waterways.  They seemed to possess — and have been possessed by — the inspiration I couldn’t find.  It was almost out of a sense of . . . frustration or better, frustrated duty, that I aimed my point-and-shoot camera up and absently released the shutter.  One image captured by this camera for this outing.  Only one.  If nothing else, the lines were interesting.

Ironically, this image was actually the best of the 12 I eventually got back, 11 of which came from other locations where I thought I could find the muse that had eluded me that day in Irving.  Yes, the lines were interesting; so were the colors. But it was the sense of being completely overwhelmed by the man-made that for me defined the picture.  I experienced the “bigness of my littleness”; how truly insignificant I was.  It was disconcerting, even anxiety-provoking  to be overshadowed by an indifferent monolith that could crush you into confirmed non-existence in the blink of an eye. Yet at the same time, there was something — beautiful? — in recognizing my own fragile mortality.


For me, photography is an exercise in taking chances.  If I’m not shooting a  camera with no internal light meter  — and I won’t ever carry a hand-held one — then I’m routinely misusing expired film,  here a roll of 135 in a camera that shoots 120.  That’s not the whole story, of course.  There are the deliberate choices about shooting fast film usually reserved for night work during the day and day films at night (or shooting film period).  And about shooting straight into sun or whatever light source is available and embracing blur and distortion.  And about processing negative film as positive  or, as in this image, positive as negative.  And so much more.  It’s part of my perversity.

A lot of people can’t understand why I consciously break the rules. Not once or twice, but all the time.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier to use a digital camera, where internal mechanisms calculate aperture, speed and light balance with algorithmic precision? Or at the very least, lenses and equipment that offer the clearest and/or most complete picture of the thing being shot? My answer: it’s about capturing soul, that intangible essence of what someone — or something — is. More often than not, it comes from doing what’s unexpected, like using a $20 Holga to shoot the nervous rush of blackbirds across a beautiful but inhuman Dallas skyline at twilight.

I’m always looking for soul; and sometimes, if I’m very lucky, I catch glimpses of its presence in the work I do. Here,  in the cross-processed blue-grays and plastic lens-softened lines of buildings and blackbirds, I see the beginnings of a dream — or  nightmare — and experience the alienation that is Dallas.  But only for a moment: whatever any camera captures is as elusive as the photographic medium itself.   It’s  part of what keeps me coming back time and again.  That and the imperfections that emerge from taking chances that illuminate the pathways to soul.

Bridge: noun. To bridge: verb.  The first term implies interrupted space but a way to mend it and make it whole again; the second, that getting over a break means getting across.  I appreciate bridges of all kinds;  I suppose most travelers do, since they make any kind of journeying easier.  But I love them, too.  They bring together yet are themselves liminal, always poised in between.  Stand on one and you hang — to varying degrees of safety — in the midst of rupture. Move along to the other side and, in crossing a divide, you’ve achieved a small miracle of travel.

The day I photographed this Moss Park bridge, I didn’t cross it.  Instead, I stayed to one side, watching lazy river currents carry the occasional duck or carelessly tossed piece of trash downstream.  But as I aimed my camera’s viewfinder towards the bridge, I had an unexpected revelation.  A span across a dirty river became more than what it was. In the last flood of pre-sunset light, it became an illuminated promise.  Cross this and be on your way; cross this and be where you want to go.

Bridges, it seems, even small city bridges like this one, are more than utilitarian spans across interruptions in terrain that are inconvenient, polluted or even dangerous.  They are spaces of perspective — unique to the eye of each beholder — not only on what they cross, but also what they link.

I hadn’t been shooting for over a month-and-a-half.  The last time I’d taken pictures, I was in small-town Czech Republic.  And now I found myself back in the US:  Dallas, the third — and biggest — city to which I’d moved in six months.  But when I saw the many winter-bare trees growing throughout Moss Park,  just two blocks from my new apartment, I knew it was time to take out the cameras.

The snow from the second winter storm of the season was almost all melted.  There was no lack of sun, but it was cold, with a wind that whipped you raw if you moved too fast.  I was on my bicycle, a bright blue Wal-Mart Schwinn, wheeling down the paved trail that cut through the park, my two cameras clanking around my neck.  It was late afternoon, close to the magic hour so prized by photographers, when direct light from the sun turns soft and diffuse.  I met a few bicyclists and joggers along the way who were also braving the chill, but for the most part I was alone to bear witness to the day’s end.

Of course, I couldn’t stay on the trail.  Those trees were inviting me to take a look and get to know them better:  from the top down and the ground up; from close by and at different angles through different lenses.  It would have been rude to just observe them from a polite distance and then be on my way.  So I rode across wet grass and through patches of muddy earth to commune with them.

To me, they seemed more beautiful naked than if they’d had leaves to cover them in green.  It was like I was looking at them stripped down to the gray-brown skeletons that spring growth would hide.  I was glad I had loaded my cameras with black and white film.  Color would have distracted from the graceful forms I was seeing and would have made the trees, in their monochrome simplicity, seem ugly.  And that wouldn’t have been fair. In elegant surrender to rhythms greater than themselves,  the trees were only hibernating, holding in the energy that would make them more colorful when warmth returned.