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there is always something (why I shoot film)

There are maybe ten shots left on the roll. Outside the metro, a collection of pigeons sit on minuscule ledges above two old men. They talk as all old men do, with operatic waves of their hands, sour expressions, belly laughs, eventually scratching their chins as they stare off at nothing in particular. I am pretending to take pictures of something near them, then swing across when they are not looking to shoot a few frames. At one point I surrender to the afternoon and move on.

And now, the courtyard that leads to the film lab. A great old building rests here, a school of architecture where students mill around dressed in black sucking on cigarettes with giant portfolios tucked under their arms. A young man approaches me. I am ready to tell him I have no idea what he is saying, but he wants to know where the film lab is. I jut my chin, telling him the door is just beyond a few bushes. He nods his thanks.

There are screens set up in a jagged line, sheathed in filthy white plastic to …

the planned shot (a free ride)


There is a plan. I leave early, getting off the trolley bus as it lurches along the river. The water is brown, brackish not reflecting the blue sky. A white arc paints across the clouds, the leftover from some small plane. The cemetery sits across the water behind a line of trees. It was one of the first places I visited here, almost twelve years ago when I was just a tourist. Eisenstein is buried there. I have not visited it since then.

The party boats eventually make their way, music pumping but no one dancing on them. Flags are flapping hard and stiff in the wind. I wait, and check focus and then shoot two frames, foreground and background maybe adding up to something thoughtful or maybe something too obvious. I just can't tell right now. I know those gold onion-shaped domes in the distance are what everyone thinks of when they imagine Moscow, and these specific ones do mean something to me.

A man is fishing nearby, and I wander over to stand behind him. His pole drapes over the water. It smells foul here, like dead animals and kerosene. He adjusts the brim of his cap, stares out at the water. I cannot resist taking pictures of fishermen, a great metaphor for street photography but maybe that is clunky and obvious. My father is a fisherman, as was his father. The reason is always personal too.

The boats chug by, and I shoot a few more of them convinced this layered composition is good for the end of the book. Then I go to pick up E.

Her camera swings from her neck, loaded with black and white film.

At the bus stop, we wait. I see a line of soldiers all with giant duffel bags on their shoulders. There are three grey buses, sitting open and empty. I nudge E. Take it, take the shot I tell her. My camera is empty and I reload.
A stray dog rests in a patch of sunlight and E tiptoes around it.
"Can I really take it?" She asks.
I nod yes, poking my chin out.
She shoots two, maybe three frames and retreats.
I think she is starting to understand, this is a little bit like robbing a bank. This stepping from the shadows trying to remain invisible and then back again. Does the fisherman respect the fish? I like to think yes, but they can catch them and throw them back. What we are up to is far more messy, more grey.

The young soldiers file in, and I try to take a few as a police car cruises past us, as women with flowers in their hands step past, as a minivan wobbles around potholes. They are all almost inside before I get anything reasonable.

Our bus slumps to the curb and we wander in. That stray dog is somehow behind us, finding an empty spot on the floor with his mouth pressed against his paws. I like the idea of him getting a free ride somewhere.





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