“Stand upright like a monument
Walk upright like a solider
And be upright like a man.”
— a made-up quote
In the summer of 2010, I noticed that Schmutzie was posting photos with her iPhone. They had a different feel than the photos taken with her “real” camera. I downloaded Hipstamatic, her favorite photo app, but there were too many choices of stocks and filters, and I quickly lost interest.
I followed another link to an iPhone to an app called Instagram. This one I understood. It was point and shoot, and even better, it was like social like Twitter! And unlike blogging, which is segregated by language, you could see photos from far-away places as France, Turkey, and Brazil!
I walked around my block in Queens and took a few more shots of the neighborhood. It didn’t feel like serious photography, but more like a visual diary.
“Hey, look. Here’s a chair someone is throwing away in the garbage!”
It WAS like Twitter.
It was a year ago today.
There was no way in hell that I could ever imagine that 365 days later, I would have taken 1300 more photos! And even more shocking — others would LOOK AT THEM! Instagram reminded me of my blogging world from 2005 — a mishmash of professionals and amateurs taking photos of their lunches, their babies, their cities, and lots of artsy sunsets, with no one angsting over stats or monetization… yet.
Of course, some professional photographers looked down on the heavily-filtered Instagram photos, much in the same way that some writers don’t see blogging as “real writing.” The professional photographers do have a point. I would never call myself a photographer. I barely know what I am doing. No one is going to hire me to do a job. 99% of those who use these app are not authentic photographers, but dabblers, and what’s wrong with that? It’s another way to enjoy our creativity. This is the world we live in — on the internet, everyone is a writer, actor, and photographer. And good-looking.
I did receive received some criticism over the year, especially for my fondness for taking photos of strangers on the street. I am quite aware of the “peeping tom” aspect of what I am doing, but so far, I’ve been able to live with myself. I do it with a standard of respect. In my heart, I see street photography as a celebration of humanity and urban life, not something salacious.
In many ways, this year-long exercise in iPhoneography has given me more confidence in other facets of my life. Writing is a solitary occupation. Instagram gives me a reason to walk around the block. It’s also taught me some lessons about writing, perception, and POV. There is also something sexy about photography.
I’m even starting to gain the courage to ASK subjects if I can take a photo. Last week, I had lunch/dinner/drinks with three different bloggers. After the meal, I asked each of them if I could take her photo. It felt empowering to say “Trust me,” and have someone believe me, especially a woman.
While these three photos may not be the greatest portraits ever, or as dramatic as the Instagram photos I once took of the skyscrapers of Fifth Avenue, they are way more special. I care about these people. And I didn’t have to hide in the bushes.
And then, this week, for the first time, I asked a stranger if I can take her photo.
And that’s a big change in a year.
November in NYC was balmy this year. I wore a t-shirt just two weeks ago, walking down Broadway. And then the tree went up in Rockefeller Center, the Christmas shoppers arrived, and winter finally arrived. I like how the photos show a passage of time.
December is a month were we traditionally think about our plans for the upcoming year. I have a ticket to return to Los Angeles on December 18th, which means, at least for the month of January, a return to the bright palette and frequently superficial lights of the West Coast.
Thanks for letting me share with you these NYC photos over the last two months.
Next Thursday, I’m flying out to Los Angeles to take care of a few things left unsettled. In the beginning of August, I will attend BlogHer. After that, I’m seriously debating finding a place in Los Angeles, thinking it would be the best step, career-wise. But I’m still not sure yet.
And if that is the case, I’ll be missing the tall skyscrapers at sunset, the subway cars screeching around the gritty tracks of Queens, and the thin uptown women in the polka dot dresses crossing the wide city streets in their fashionable shoes.
“Hello, would you mind if I take a photo of you walking across the street in that sexy polka dot dress so I can put it on Istagram, a photo sharing app on the internet, so thousands of strangers can view it under the title “NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag?”
“Sure. Sounds like an interesting project. And I am a patron of the arts. I even subscribe to the New Yorker.”
“Great. I just need for you to initial this contract on the dotted lines. Please be aware that I reserve all rights to change the color of the photo, including the ability to transform the image into black and white purely for dramatic effect. But let me assure you that making this color choice is purely a creative decision, and has no bearing on whether YOU are black or white, because I do not base my “NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag” photos on skin color, ethnicity, or native language.”
“Thank you for being so open to different cultures.”
“I believe it is my duty as an artist. Now please put your initials here, allowing me to have exclusive rights to both the digital and print versions of your image as you walk across the street in your sexy polka dot dress, and the ability to reproduce this photo in various sizes. And by size, I mean the resolution of the image, and not YOUR size, because I strongly believe that a “NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag” can be beautiful in any size from thin to curvy girl.”
“I wish there were more men like you who understood that women can be sexy in all shapes and sizes.”
“I believe it is artistic temperment that allows me to see beyond the cultural mores of the day.”
“You are terrific!”
“Thank you. Your support means a lot to me. Now please check this box here, acknowledging to those viewing the photo that this image is completely spontaneous, and that you in no way changed your natural appearance or demeanor as you crossed the street as a “”NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag,” despite you first signing a permission form, or accepting the one or two slight recommendations that were offered to you, such as the suggestion that you open up a second button on your blouse, a matter solely related to artistic effect, with little bearing on the true authenticity of the photograph.”
“Absolutely. Authenticity in artistic expression is soooo important to me. So, just two buttons? I just wish I had wore a bra today!”
“Don’t worry about that. I appreciate the authenticity.”
“Thank you! I love the way you are approaching me with this photo you are about to take titled “NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag.” So many other men would take the photo secretly without even asking permission. How rude and arrogant!”
“Perverts! Peeping Toms, I call them. Now, I just need your signature at the bottom of the contract, and then we can proceed with me taking your photo of you crossing the street in the polka dot dress as the “”NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag.” But please note, that when I ask for your signature, any type of text-based symbol would suffice, because I aware that many in modern society have reading disorders or dyslexia, so I wouldn’t want to embarrass you or cause you discomfort by asking for your full signature.
“You are such a doll! So considerate. I wish all street photographers were like this! Let’s take that photo and put it online!”
In the last month, I’ve taken over 300 photos of my neighborhood in Queens and around the New York City, and posted them on Istagram, which is a Twitter-type app on the iPhone for photography. I’ve also greatly enjoyed seeing the photos of other bloggers also using this iPhone app. Instagram is an interesting place to visit, a mixure of professionals and amateurs from around the world, all putting up random photos of their lives in an never-ending stream.
I rarely take photos, even on vacations, but during the last month of photo-taking, I’ve learned some interesting tidbits about myself, the creative act, and YOU, the viewer. Maybe I’ll talk about these insights during my next post. This exercise has been a lot of fun, even a little sexy. Life is interesting, and colorful, so why not capture it in images?
Writing is a different animal. Words frequently fail me when I try to recreate the real world on the blank page. I hide behind the words. But the real world loves the camera. It doesn’t play games. It begs for our attention, like a spoiled movie star in a low cut dress crying, “Take my photo!”
I suggest you take some photos this weekend, throw some filters on top of them, and publish them on your blog. Visual art energizes a different part of the brain.
I don’t know how much longer I will be running around town taking photos, or whether LA will inspire me in the same way, if I end up returning there. I like that there is a little story behind each photograph, even when the subject is the most ordinary. Especially when the subject is the most ordinary. That makes it even more intriguing. It’s an important lesson to remember for writing. The other photos are on Flickr.
This week was one of my most pleasurable weeks online that I’ve had in a long time.
I had fun.
I played around on Instagram, an easy-to-use photo social media app that is on my phone, taking random photos of Queens and Manhattan. And when I say “played around,” I mean I PLAYED AROUND, focusing on the activity, not on the trappings of who, what, or where. And I enjoyed playing around with other individuals who were having fun, not jockeying for position or pimping posts.
Instagram will eventually be ruined too, going the same way as every other social media application. People will notice who is and who is not following them. A marketing company will create a list of the Top 50 Instagram Moms. A professional photographer will write a manifesto with rule #1 being: no more photos of your lunch.
But for now, I am clueless. I’m not a photographer. I don’t care if you follow me or not. I’m not even sure I will continue using this app next week. But this week, I enjoyed seeing YOUR photos of your kids, dogs, patio chairs, and what you had for lunch.
Thanks for inviting me over!
Next week, I will return to blogging and Twitter. Maybe my week of photography will inspire me to have fun again online.
see my recent instagram photos on Flickr