It’s always been a problem with me. What issue of the great variety of things that fascinate me but about which I know nothing or next to nothing — which just about covers the whole spectrum of knowledge should I look into next?
When I was an active academic geographer, I followed my nose and tried to avoid topics that were “in fashion”. As a consequence, I ended up looking at things as diverse as electoral reform and electoral districting, state partition, ethnic minorities in cities, and music festivals. Fortunately, most of the pieces I wrote were well received (in retrospect, they’re all related but that’s another story and definitely not for this blog). Nevertheless, whenever I finished something, there never seemed to be a logical follow-up. Usually, my interests were short-lived and I had to search all over again, moving on to something new instead of following it up in depth.
Grasshopper brain or something.
Anyway, let’s return to photography, which is supposed to be the meta-theme of this blog. When I decided some eight and half years ago that I wanted to pursue this line, I decided I needed to take a refresher course and signed up for a beginners’ course in Tel Aviv. I borrowed a camera from my daughter Tami — I didn’t have one at the time — and started off one Friday morning in September 2007 outside the Suzanne Dallal Center in Neve Tzedeq in South Tel Aviv. I’d missed the first meeting in the studio earlier in the week and had no idea what was expected of me this particular morning.
I think I had expected to have been given specific instructions and then follow them. Instead, it went something like this:
Itzik Canetti (The Instructor): Off you go to photograph.
I: But what should I photograph?
Itzik: Whatever you see that appeals to you.
I: But of what? And where?
Itzik: Whatever you see that appeals to you. And if you encounter a problem in the next three hours, well, I’m here to help
I (thinking): And I’ve paid this guy money for this!!!
Itzik Canetti is a fine photographer and wonderful person but I thought there was something absolutely screwy with his didactic and pedagogic skills! (I didn’t realize then how wrong I was.) How on earth was I supposed to know what to do, where to go and how to do it?
But I had been given an assignment and had three hours to complete it, and with no desire to drop out on the first day, off I went — without a clue as to what I was doing and why!
I completed the course and at the end had some basic idea of how to operate a digital camera but if I was to continue with this new pastime, I’d have to decide what to photograph and where. This was more than a little problematic, as I had no idea except that if I didn’t do something, I’d very soon give it all up before I’d got started.
So, in essence an incredibly indolent individual, I took an easy way out. We live near the Yarqon Park in North Tel Aviv—the nearest entrance is about 250m away. If I walk west, I reach the sea in about a quarter of an hour and I can continue from there along the promenade of Tel Aviv Port. Alternatively, I could (and occasionally do) go in the opposite direction, eastward towards the city of Ramat Gan.
Surely I’d be able to find enough interesting subjects in the park without having to venture into the city? And so it has proven — much, I admit, to my surprise. During eight years on this route there have been maybe three or four days (and I’m there at least five days a week) on which I’ve come back with nothing and perhaps there have been another dozen or 15 days or so when I was left with just a single picture that had any potential.
Whether it’s the vegetation or the wildlife, the activities, the people, the boats and joggers, the walkers and the cyclists, the coffee drinkers and much more, there’s always something that catches the eye and appears different each time you pass by. Or, things simply appear; in other words, I’ve been so unobservant that I’ve never noticed them before. Walking (or occasionally cycling) through the park gives you the opportunity to revisit scenes you already captured more than once — and each time, there’s something different.
Week 1: In Yarqon Park
However, walking through the park just photographing what passes in front of the lens isn’t enough, they told me. You have to have a project.
So, I looked for projects and I’ll write about some of them in coming weeks. I started off with balconies, those wonderful appendices to apartments, those liminal spaces that are not quite inside and not quite outside the lived space. I photographed several hundred of these.
Then I discovered fire hydrants — yes, fire hydrants and have a collection of nearly a thousand of those.
The perplexed and the peacock
Homeless people were there to be photographed. One homeless man, in particular, became a project as I followed him from bench to bench over a four-year period.
Street signs formed another project that I started and may well return to.
Indeed, there is a limitless number of objects and subjects out there waiting for me to look at.
… to be continued