Sometimes I play a game with myself when I’m traveling alone. I count the number of local people that discover me as an outsider. Now, this is not a numbers game, it’s a strategy. I dress the part and I fall in line with the ebb and flow of the streets. The goal is for people to think I’m one of them before they hear the American accent. I win the game when the people who do discover me become my friends.
Late November/early December in northern Italy and southern Germany is right in beginning of the off-season. The fall is over and its not quite ski season yet, and wine season is dwindling to an end. Not every town has an off-season. They’re becoming increasingly hard to find. But it’s the best time to go undercover. Life is slow, and there’s a lot of room open for simple appreciation. The fog on the road at night isn’t a nuisance but an addition to serenity. Whatever people came to gawk at is no longer in the spotlight. It’s a time to capture a wanderer in an empty street, a leaf the world chose to overlook, that itty bitty moment that sparks joy within the monotonous exchanges of daily life. An empty thing, that towers magnificent only when filled with an appreciation for the mundane.
When I feel like I’m blending in I take the camera out and go for the kill. Sometimes it’s worth it to blow my cover, and sometimes it’s not. I have this internal dialogue often. It’s an argument with myself on whether to ask someone to take their photo, or if I should even take the camera out in the first place. When photography turns into a thing of the ego, a camera can be deadly weapon. Taking a photo immortalizes a moment, an object, a person. Every photo is a choice to either idolize or to cherish.
At the very end of this roll, I stood stationary in the market place for a while with my camera up and ready to shoot. I’m normally one to snap a photo and run away, but this time I tried to immerse myself as background noise. It worked for my purposes, no one engaged in the flower stand gave me any recognition. Daily life persisted without a hitch. The market was unbothered by me. But I was bothered by something I found strange that started happening. A few people, not many but enough for me to notice, came to stand next to me and snap a photo of the florist shop, and walk away. Did I create something of interest by pointing my camera, or did I point my camera because I stumbled upon something of interest?
There are certain places that everyone idolizes. We’ve all taken a photo of that place. You know, the place where there seems to always be a ratio of one middle aged man with a Cannon Rebel to every 7 iPhones and everything ends up lost in a photo stream or a timeline anyway. What we look for in these places is a longing to somehow be a part of story the places evokes. There’s no difference in value depending how important or insignificant a story, or a photo might be. The only value is whether it can evoke a feeling in someone or yourself. In the age of information overload, we have to be careful about what we are immortalizing, what becomes idolized. Something that is idolized blindly starts to lose touch with reality.
On the first day I arrived earlier that week my friend brought me along on an errand to get his coworker some flowers to make up for being late to his shift a few days back. Of all the random things that happened while I was there, everything was connected to this underlying sense of communal wellbeing that was extended to even strangers. An inclusive exclusivity. There’s not much I can say about this town in terms of things to see that would make me recommend it to anyone. But it has an essence that I want to capture and hold on to.
When I was watching the people in the flower market I couldn’t help but wonder their reasons for being there. Were they there for a lover? An aesthetic? Or better yet, what did they fuck up? Who was in the web of people that would experience these flowers? Did it somehow overlap with someone I knew? Will they somehow change the course of someone’s day? Or will they wilt unnoticed, simply existing in a beautiful temporary state just for the sake of being there? I find myself wondering in the same ways when I see a photo someone put care and consideration into, like a bouquet of flowers.
The mountains remind me of a lover, a glass of wine. The flowers make me think of bicycles and cheese. Tram lines hanging in the street stir up sounds of a party in the forest. There’s no direct connection, and no photogenic proof. But the towns still stand, the people go about their daily business, and the uncaptured moments that reside in the blank space between the negatives remain very much alive.