Setting Sunlight on Smiling Jack
My daughter’s two-story, 19th-century wood-frame house has light entering it every which way. There’s morning light, evening light, northern light in summer, southern light in winter. There’s diffuse light and direct light. I have yet to explore it all.
On this occasion, I had been shooting my son-in-law with a medium format camera by diffuse northern light through a living-room window. The tripod was set up; it was slow going. I took a break and went for water in the kitchen. There, Jack was chuckling while being passed between his sisters like a football. I was in the visual zone. I saw Jack’s half-lit giggling face; I saw (what I knew would be) out-of-focus light bulbs above a dining table in the background. Click. A moment in time stopped forever.
I was lucky. With family, I keep the 35mm Leica rangefinder around my neck even while in the middle of using larger format cameras. Maybe someday I will be able to keep it around my neck all the time, but with family no ridiculous, timid self-consciousness impedes me as it does out in “the world.” (It’s not the 60s or 70s anymore. Everyone is suspicious, scared of their own shadows. Although I haven’t heard news of anyone shot and killed by a camera yet.)
I’ve spent years photographing strangers. Produced a lot of stilted shots that have filled the garbage, and have made some decent ones as well; they’ve made it to a show or in a magazine. I’ve had this dream to publish a book of these “portraits of strangers.” I realize now that all those photographs, all that effort, all the hours refining prints in the darkroom – all of it – was mere training. Now, perhaps I am more capable of making the important images – family photographs. I know they will be cherished the way photographs were meant to be. Sounds corny, I know. But one day, Jack’s grandchildren will look at his photo – in a little frame on a wall – and wonder how their grandpa got so wrinkled up.
Setting Sunlight on Lillian