Day before Thanksgiving 2009. Driving north on Highway 5 toward L.A. The sun starting to come up behind me making long shadows of the cars stopping and going all around. I pass the downtown skyline. Back in the day - after grad school - I used to work in that tallest white one with the crown on it. Used to be called the First Interstate Tower. I think, but I’m not too troubled by my ailing memory this morning. I’m heading to Melrose – the south alley - to photograph some murals and graffiti in the “magic hour” of light. Listening to some various tunes – Psychedelic Furs, Bob Mould, Uncle Kracker. Some caffeine and a sunrise and I’m in my most universal frame of mind concerning relationships between music, color, art, food…well basically everything in the universe to wax redundant. In the midst of this blood buzz, I’m in a mood to listen to Run by Snow Patrol. I first heard this song when Snow Patrol warmed up the crowd for U2 in 2005 in Amsterdam during the Vertigo tour. I was taken then, as I am now, by it’s rich, sustained melodic vocals.
Then I remembered that a buddy had strongly suggested I download a cover of Run by Leona Lewis. I’m a little leery of stunningly beautiful diva covers of treasured rock and roll songs, but I let my universal ponderings this morning take me down into that rabbit hole. It started off slow with wistful vocals and piano. But then built in vocal strength and orchestral pieces in the chorus and second stanza: “…light up, light up, as if you have a choice…”. And then again in the third stanza so that between minutes 2 and 3 of Leona’s cover, I’m thinking something probably more vague but along the lines of “…wow, can an artistic performance have any more emotional depth…” But at about minute 3:15, there is a response. A gospel reprise embodying pure soul and abandonment to something else – music, color, spirit, love, passion, touch, a fifth dimension perhaps.
Keeping that in mind and segueing to photography, Lee Friedlander is one of my photography heroes (and I’m sure that I will talk about his work much in this space). He stretched the boundaries of documentary photography with what I would describe as artistic expressiveness. And this artistic expressiveness is akin to what I heard in Leona Lewis’s voice, and in Gary Lightbody’s voice, or that I see in the colorful marks made by these mural and graffiti artists’ hands, or that I see when I watch a soccer player moving the ball downfield, or that I feel when I’m making love or connecting with a friend, or that something I remember tasting in my mother’s turkey stuffing and pumpkin pie when she was alive. I could go on endlessly, there is something, maybe it is a type of perfect good or spirit, that is common to all of these things. These gifts.
Another approach at this, and as it relates to Friedlander: I came across this anonymous quote describing his genre-bending ventures in photography: “Photography has generally been defended on the ground that it is useful, in the sense that the McCormick reaper and quinine have been useful…It should be added however that some of the very best photography is useful only as juggling, theology, or pure mathematics is useful – that is to say, useless, except as nourishment for the human soul”. Today I am thankful for the things that nourish the human soul.
(Note: This essay was first written in 2009. I have updated it here in 2010 for this blog posting.)