The other day I snapped this picture of a woman looking at the photos I have on display at Waterfront Coffee Company. A nifty little indie coffee shop, just a few blocks from our condo in Edmonds, Washington, Waterfront has an eclectic, rotating collection of art on their walls. Smart on the part of the coffee shop–they get free decorating all while supporting local artists. (They get a cut of the sales too, but seems a fair trade for well-trafficked display space.) It’s also a great opportunity for someone like me that enjoys taking photographs and sharing them. After all, the Seattle Art Museum hasn’t reached out. Yet.
It’s almost like being a professional photographer! OK, so it’s not like exhibiting at The Met; it’s a coffee shop, I get that. Still, it’s kind of cool to have your art on display for others to see, ponder, and potentially purchase. And purchase they have. I didn’t expect to sell a thing, but have been pleasantly surprised that a few images have struck a fancy with some. Trust me, this is not a viable way to earn a living, but it’s nice to have tangible validation that someone sees value in your art. It’s fantastic when your sister buys one of your photos, but that’s not the same as some random stranger saying, “I like that. I want that, and I’ll pay for it.”
Anyway, I’m sitting in the coffee shop one morning sipping my Mexican Mocha when the woman above places her order and walks over to where my photos are displayed. Suddenly, “What is she thinking?” popped into my head and the urge to capture the image of her standing there looking at my photos took over (I know, it’s weird. Sometimes a photo has to be taken). Because pulling out the Nikon DSLR and setting up a shot where this woman’s buttocks are about four feet from my lens didn’t seem very prudent, I got my iPhone, slipped into ninja mode and grabbed this stealth shot.
As I edited the image, “what is she thinking?” was back in my thoughts. She did not genuflect, look up, and shout, “AMAZING! I must have these, all of these!” while waving her arms wildly about. She didn’t even pick up a business card. She grabbed her coffee and walked out. But she did look closely at the display. She must have thought something.
Was it, “this is the most amazing display of photographic talent in the history of forever,” or more along the lines of, “huh, the owner’s kid must have a new camera. Why else would they put this crap on the walls?”
I’ll never know.
What I do know is I like this image. Why? It’s hard to say. Which leads me (finally) to the whole point of writing this.
Once I got past, “what is she thinking?” my thoughts wandered off into what makes a photograph–or anything else really–appealing? Why do I like this image? Would anyone else like it? What would make it a better image? What the hell does “better” even mean?
Technically speaking, this isn’t a good photograph. The focus isn’t sharp, the light is harsh in places. The white balance was way off, rendering the wall color an unpleasant baby poop yellow. But hey, what can you do when you’re trying not to look like you’re taking a photo, in public, of some woman’s ass? Certain compromises have to be made in order not to look like a creeper, or get arrested.
Technicalities aside, I like this image because of what it represents, to me. It tells a story, to me. I suspect I’m the only one it speaks to. While it would be a weird meta artsy sort of thing to hang this print so that people could look at an image of a person looking at images, I have a feeling that unless the backstory is known, this fuzzy black and white would be of no interest to anyone.
But that’s part of what makes art, art. Right? Good art, which I don’t claim this to be, tells a story to many. Maybe that story is nowhere close to what the artist intended to convey, but a story is told none-the-less. Sure, there is also some fundamental visceral appeal too. It’s not all about a story. Pretty colors, interesting subject matter, the interplay of light and shadow, all that goes into making good photos too. But it’s that intangible story that separates a technically good image from a piece of art.
This photo has a story too. It’s a story of me opening myself up by displaying a little bit of my soul on the wall. It’s a story of wonder (what is she thinking?), of human behavior (the need to be liked, trusted and have others find value in you), of curiosity (would anyone other than me find this image interesting?). I have posted photos on Facebook and Instagram that have been “Liked” by hundreds. Yet hanging these photos on a wall for random strangers to see, to be able to reach out and touch, somehow makes me feel far more vulnerable–almost exposed in a sense–than anything posted to the Facebook masses.
Damn, that’s a lot of story for a shitty little black and white iPhone photo.
Despite my liking this photo, the simple fact is it would never see the light of day unless its story came along with it.
So here you have it. Now you have the image, and its story.
You probably don’t find this photograph as appealing as I do. But I bet there is something out there that speaks to you, that makes you think, and wonder, that drives your curiosity. Find that something, and enjoy it. Listen to its story.
You too can purchase an original Jay Thompson photograph to call your very own. Just go to my woefully neglected photography site and see if there’s something you like. One day, I’ll add more images, there are thousands of them scattered about. Many are awful, some passable, and a few are pretty good, if I do say so myself.