Important Photo – My Son in an Alley
It is possible that the most important roll of film I ever shot was of my son in an alley, at midnight, in Avignon, France. Important because it was about family, images from that roll ended up holding weight in the ultimate viewing space of any artist, the refrigerator, but it was also an important roll, because I made so many images I liked. Truth be told, I liked most of the thirty-six images even though I know there is at least a pinch of Dad bias thrown in.
Here was the scene. Our family had recently arrived in France. Two adults were fried, and the fifteen month old was very well rested, and on his very own time zone. It was midnight, and he was going full speed. I took him outside the hotel to the alley running along its side, and let him go. Up and down, back and forth, wherever he was pulled. He was in the penguin walk stage, waddling and often flapping his arms as he explored. At times he seemed more like a drunk little man. I had my camera over my shoulder, and in it was high speed black and white film. I had learned to come back with an image I wanted in low light by not stubbornly clinging to only one kind of film. 3200 film was beautiful with its grain in these old, dark cities, and I knew I could choose a shutter speed I could hold.
When I look back on that roll I wonder why it worked. Was it because I was excited to be in a new place? Was it because I was a fan of Henri Cartier-Bresson, was in his country, and had often noticed how he would find a background first, and then let the subject fill it? Was it because it was my kid and I was very committed to the moment? Probably yes to all.
For the duration of our walk, which I made last for over an hour to help push him into the zone of sleep, I studied how the light fell on him, how he moved in and out of shadows, how the background of the alley helped set the stage, and how it sometimes helped pull the eye into the image. All these ideas had huge applicability to my work in the natural world, and make me often think how important it is to work outside my genre and my comfort range, just to improve the way I respond to what I know most.