>This is a post about photographs, without any posted here.
A few months ago I was having dinner with friends. The conversation drifted to a story involving a deceased friend of theirs, someone I had never met. As soon as someone mentioned their friend, they started telling stories about him. At one point C. asked: “Remember that picture of him & his wife? The one taken at the party?”. “It was the best picture ever,” she said to me, and then she went on to describe it in detail. I felt that I had a great image of the man that my friends missed.
Later, I started thinking about the memorable photos I have taken. Could I describe them such that someone who had never seen the photograph could understand the scene, the personalities or breathtaking view captured, the nuanced emotion, the untold story? What about the circumstances behind a photo that seems commonplace? I immediately knew what photo I would choose if asked to describe one photo I have taken that I can remember in detail without looking at it.
Here is my story of the photo:
It had rained most of the morning, but I hadn’t minded it a bit. I had wanted only to be away from my friends. Too many days together on the trip were taking a toll. I needed solitude.
I had set out on foot with the map in my daypack, and a roll that I had grabbed as I left the hotel’s breakfast room. I was 19 and it was my first time in Italy, my first time in a country where I didn’t speak the language. Not a word. I didn’t have a plan; I only wanted to walk and to see things through the lens of my camera. I had tired of the tourist spots, so I decided to wander through neighborhoods. The map would only come out of the pack when it was time to head back to the hotel.
I spent the morning walking in the drizzle, stopping occassionally to look at store front windows, avoiding the areas where hawkers sold tacky trinkets with images of the new Pope. I aimed my camera at buildings, old men playing bocce, women hanging laundry, flowers, trees, the river. Lunch was a slice of cold pizza bought at a small street market.
Around 1 in the afternoon, the rain had stopped and the sun began to appear from behind the departing clouds. The smell of Springtime was in the air: a combination of budding trees and dirt, worms, and wet stone. I wanted to walk along a foot path near the Tiber, but it was too muddy. Instead, I cross a bridge over the river, stopping along the way to snap some photos. When I had crossed, I found some stone steps leading towards the river. As I descended, I saw one of the many feral cats that wandered throughout Rome. I stopped and quietly opened my camera bag to get my telephoto lens. The tabby stared at me as I aimed.
A month later, I had returned home and started working. The day I received my first pay check, I went to pick up the 12 rolls of film I had shot. I had forgotten about the cat. When I came to that photo, I was stunned by the image.
The stone wall is shades of grey and tan and white, with moss growing between the cracks. Rainwater that had drenched the wall earlier in the day, had dried mostly, with only a few wet trails scattering along the old wall. Evenly spaced along the wall were small openings. Stray plants had taken root in some of them. Dirt, carried by the rain, stained the walls below some of the niches. In the one centered in the frame perched the tabby cat. Sitting regally, enjoying the sun, she seems to blissfully ignore the noise from the street market above the wall, as she yawns. In the next photo, her eyes are closed, her mouth and whiskers stretched into a bored grimace, as if she had just sneezed. The tabby looks like she owns not just her niche in the wall, but the entire wall, the wet bank, and the green river flowing beneath her.
A few weeks later I met with my friends to look at the photos from our trip. As I shuffled through R’s photos, I came to a nearly identical photograph of the Queen Cat. “I forgot you were with me that day”, I said. “I didn’t realize we took the same picture of that cat.” And then I remembered that I had been alone. Even though I had wandered without my friends that day, we had been on the same path.
I would post a copy of the picture here if I had it. After nearly 30 years, I don’t know if it is in one of the boxes in the basement. But the image is burned in my mind.
Here is my writing the challenge for you:
1. Pick a photo you have taken or were involved with in some way.
2. Describe the photo and explain the backstory.
3. Let your reader imagine the photo. If you want to post it, post it later!
4. Leave a link to your photo description in the comments here.
5. Tag 2 people. I tag: Emily and Bloglily.
>Emily – Glad that you will take this challenge. Can’t wait to read your post.Courtney – Maybe you’ll take this challenge too?
>What a great challenge, Cam. And you are right, I see your photo so clearly and I want to be there next to you! What a lovely description.
>Oh man, “challenge” is right! This is going to be tough, but I guess you’ve got me figured out: give me a writing challenge and I’m stubborn enough to stick with it until it’s done. I’ll think about this one and post soon.