Themes out of randomness
Although street photography is often wrought out of spontaneity and randomness, there is usually some theme of sorts that ties the frames together from a day out shooting. I wish I can declare a more definitive theme from this past weekend. Asides from several portraits and point-perspective photos, the overall theme of the weekend appeared to be spontaneity itself.
I had planned on covering a fencing tournament on Saturday morning at Windy City Fencing. Due to a much lower turnout than usual, however, the main even ended hours earlier than I had anticipated. I had arrived just as the main event had ended. Given how small the tournament was, though, I was told that I did not miss much at all. A stark contrast to a month ago when I found myself photographing hundreds of world class fencers at the 2014 Korfanty Sabre World Cup. That’s just the nature of photographing fencing events, however; randomness and unpredictability abounds despite the tournament organisers’ best efforts.
With hours now free, I decided to head back downtown. With my gear in hand, though, there was no way in hell I would return home with empty memory cards. Time to switch from fencing to street. As I got off the Red Line at State and Jackson, the improbable happened. A street musician performing on the train platform was playing a photographic anthem: Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome.” It is rather rare to hear this ode to the now-extinct Kodachrome, of which I have often expressed my woeful regret for never having the privilege to shoot with this famous film when it was still possible to develop it. Despite having Kodachrome on the mind, ironically, all of my photos on throughout the day ultimately ended up being monochromatic.
Further happenstance occurred when I received a text message from my good friend Senija that she was in downtown for the afternoon and had wondered if I was available for lunch. While completely unexpected, it is always great to meet up with a friend and good company whenever possible. Perhaps, then it was good fortune that the fencing tournament ended as early as it did. My flight plan got tossed out the window completely, but I ended up on a much more pleasant course.
This trend of spontaneity continued throughout the rest of the weekend, ranging from Saturday evening plans getting scuttled last minute to another unanticipated lunch with a friend on Sunday afternoon to meeting up with more friends later that evening. Sunday had me passing by the Printers Row Lit Fest downtown at noon, heading up to Logan Square for burgers and beers at Revolution Brewing with fellow craft beer snob Katie in the afternoon, and then returning downtown to meet up with fellow fencing photographer Adam Barbanell and fellow epee fencer Annamaria the evening—all completely unplanned and unexpected.
After meeting up with Adam and Annamaria, the three of us eventually made our way to Millennium Park to catch the Blue Man Group performing with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Much to Annamaria’s amusement, Adam and I revisited the theme of “pictures of people taking pictures of people.” Channeling our inner Martin Parr, we proceeded to photograph audience members recording the performance with their smartphones and tablets.
It seemed rather fitting, then that I capped this weekend of randomness by returning to all too spontaneous art of approaching strangers to photograph them. At the concert’s end, I had looked back to see if there was anything interesting to capture as the audience shuffled out of the pavilion exits. I noticed this one person leaping down the concrete steps behind the seats, and I attempted to take several shots to catch him midair. This inadvertently drew the attention of a young couple sitting on the steps who were waving and smiling at me, which I had only noticed after Annamaria brought them to my attention. I turned back again, this time to photograph the couple and the giant neon green goblets in their hands. Alas, I was too far away. I need to get closer. So I abandoned my friends suddenly and walked up to conversation distance with the couple.
At this point, I should proclaim that I wholeheartedly believe that a good photograph is one that can tell a story by itself without the need for exposition. Res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”). To my eyes, the purpose of a photograph is lost . . . when its creator has to explain what is going on in it. That is why I am vexingly questioning myself why I am explaining the story in the following image. If it’s a good photo, then by such standards, I need not proceed with further narrative. But bugger . . . .
This mellow couple was asking me why I was photographing them. As usual, I went through my usual spiel of being a street photographer and handing out my business card like a pharmaceutical rep. It was quite obvious that these two were VERY HAPPY for a particular reason—the photograph explains that. (Of course it would, that’s what photographs do, they tell stories without the use of words.) Unfortunately, this image itself does not convey what happened when Annamaria and Adam followed me momentarily. The tipsy couple were bemoaning the fact that they could not leave until they finish off the fifth of vodka they had brought in, given the park’s policy that forbids alcohol outside of the pavilion. “How do you drink all of that?” Annamaria asked. Pointing to her green goblet, the girl delivered the best response I have heard in a good while: “EASY! YOU JUST POUR IT IN AND DRINK!”
All images © K. Dao Photography 2014, all rights reserved.