This is what I felt the eyes of this little boy telling me in an old Shanghai alley. He created a shield for himself just in case, hiding behind it half playfully and half in fear of the strange and the unfamiliar. I was with a photographer friend there and we both could feel when it was the right time to stop pushing the limits of innocent trust. It was one of those precious moments that street photography grants you, rare, human, and unforgettable.
I have often tried to describe in so many different ways why I love street photography so much above any other style, but then come moments to me in the streets that redefine it all for me, the whole love affair. Today, I received this incredible gift, a window opened, a moment magically presented itself and I was showered with an overwhelming emotion at the magic of it all. A shabby alley in a condemned neighborhood of Shanghai, perhaps a month away from certain demolition, a little girl with an angelic face, an old worn out leather sofa juxtaposed on the side of the alley in a most unusual place, an old bike nearby and her face searching mine making time stop, and me with a heart beating very fast raising my camera to try and capture magic through the lens and knowing it will be an image I would treasure for the rest of my life.
Being a photographer, shadows intrigue, evade, flee, hover and enchant us in so many ways as they claim their place in our images. Shadows are strange phenomena, aren’t they? They are the reverse projections of whatever object is blocking the light, almost like the doubles of that object that follow it wherever it goes, sometimes obviously visible and daunting, and other times barely there like phantoms. In a high energy city like New York, even shadows need a little nap.
In some parts of the world and with the older generations, being photographed is taken quite seriously. The pose and expression are premeditated in a way that wants to show the world that they are proud of who they are, and I just love that. I remember finding old portraits of my grandmother in shoeboxes where she looked so incredibly elegant, so refined, dressed in the most elegant of clothing and in my mind this is how she lives. I only met her as a very small child and I have no other recollection of her as she lived across the oceans, so these images embody the essence of how she projected herself to the world.
I asked this lovely man to photograph him outside the old teahouse in Kashgar and he agreed but asked me to wait. He positioned the chair where he wanted it, smoothed his coat and placed his folded hands across his knees and only then he gave me the signal to go ahead.
I like to picture my life since birth graphically as a line drawn on a globe almost like a dot on a GPS system if you want. The line starts the day I was born in the Asian continent in a small country called Lebanon and then that line goes on curving here and there, small segments at first, then they getting longer, crossing borders of countries, winding and sometimes going back to the same places and the whole time crossing with other lines of other humans. Sometimes it aligns and moves parallel to another line, like when I took walks with someone, and then splitting off to a new direction upon leaving them. And we meet so many strangers on our journey through life, some we just pass by, others we choose to be with for longer periods, and some strangers for some unknown reason, make us stop. It feels as though an exchange is meant to be had, a brief eye contact, a word, a moment shared and in my case a photo captured. And then we move on. This girl on a pavement in Shanghai just made me stop and the moment was destined to be captured and archived in my mind as very special.
Did you ever entertain the thought of taking out a lounge chair, carrying it out to the pavement of a busy street of an densely populated city, opening it up and stretching there to chill? Chinese people baffle me with their ability to just let it all hang for a half hour when they need a break, as if they have an on/off switch and they can just power off to recharge just about anywhere!
For me to take a nap, I need to have the right pillow, one of the 4 on my bed, not the one that’s too hard, or the one that is too feathery, or the kind of not so comfy one, I need the one in between and I know exactly which one it is. The noise levels have to be close to mute, and the temperature of the room has to be right. I have to be wearing no constricting clothing items like socks and the other stuff women wear and I need to silence all my phones and deal with any pending issues that might keep my mind active and stop me from relaxing into a nap… how complicated is that?? In the meantime, the locals are dozing off on the pavement, in the bus, on restaurant tables, on shop counters, and in the middle of loud and hectic traffic!
The moment temperatures go above 27 degrees Celsius, the men in Shanghai start doing what is called the t-shirt flip! In other words, they flip their t-shirts to allow their stomachs to be exposed in order to cool down. This guy was flipped happily sitting under a tree when I photographed him, and he reacted with a “eeeeyyyyy, bla bla bla bla” in Shanghai dialect followed by “what are you photographing?” in Mandarin. So I came over to him and showed him the shot on my screen (thank God for digital) and he had this wonderful reaction where he straightened up proudly and mouthed a “hmmmm” in approval. I love these tiny clips of Shanghai moments.
This is a musing that has been with me the last few weeks, “nothing is as it seems”…
I was taking photos today and I stopped at the shadows reflected on the wall in the afternoon sun and contemplated again that we actually never see ourselves. We always see a reflection, a shadow, a reverse image of who we are and what we look like. The greatest challenge of all is to know and see who we are on the inside, the everlasting part, the part that inhabits the physical form. For that there is no camera, only the mind.