Vocabulary of Signs
It’s often hard to know what to make of almost anything we see in the world at large. Garry Winogrand, with whom I daily walked the streets of Manhattan, LA, Paris, and elsewhere for a few steady years in the mid 60’s, used to say that when he photographed someone on the street with their mouth wide open it was difficult to know if they were screaming, laughing or yawning, and it was that ambiguity that made it an interesting photographic moment.
Here too, the ridiculous angle and action opens the frame to suggestions of a violent nature, as well as just thoughtless family teasing. These unknowns are part of the photographer’s vocabulary of ‘signs,’ which indicate something of interest is happening right here! But will it yield a photograph? Only the photograph after the fact will tell us if it amounts to more than the sum of its parts.
I am reminded that all situations are fair game for making photographs, even the ones that seem most conventional; like sitting around with friends, watching family members living their lives, casual moments at home, or anything that is merely quotidian. These unexalted events are the things that become invisible to us, while in fact they are as potentially potent as anything else out there in the free-for-all of life on the streets.
I can think of wonderful images made by Robert Frank, Elliot Erwitt, Garry Winogrand, and lots of others who were open to looking at the abundance of their own family’s private life. This image is not significant in terms of art, but its moment of shared good will and human warmth, the lovely gesture of the woman on the couch, the quality of the ambient light in the room, all remind me of how engaged I was by the feelings swirling around the room, and how it made me want to reach for it the only way I know.