Picturing

Someone honked.

A honk is the malfunctioning stun gun of Captain Obvious. “Hey! Do you know what you’re doing? Stop that!” Yes, I do know what I’m doing, and since we’re on the subject of stopping, STOP ANNOYING ME.

Well, I was standing right next to the freeway off ramp. But I was behind the concrete guard rail. I mean – really.

Then the someone waved. I may have known the someone. Honking is only effective if I know your car. If I don’t know your car, now I do, and thanks for making that introduction possible, but now, oh, we’re all out of time, and you’re out of sight, and I still don’t know who you are.

I was next to the freeway off ramp, behind the concrete guard rail, to get the best shot of the Esperanza Unida mural. The honk was fine, actually; I needed the distraction to concentrate. Photography is like all the arts in that it makes your view of the world more comprehensible and mysterious. Only it does it in the most literal way.

Under the sunlight, the mural shook its colors like maracas, and they flushed red, orange, green, blue – though it seemed silly to give names to these colors.

Under the sunlight, an abstract sculpture of a man started breathing, smiling, turning its head, yearning for the best angle. I circled around and around, clicking and clicking, eager to please him.

Under the sunlight, a woman squinted and cradled her sign:

HOMELESS

HUNGRY

please help

thank you

I walked towards her like a student approaching a master, barely maintaining eye contact, saying, “Would you mind if I took your picture? I have ten dollars, I don’t want you to feel like I’m taking advantage of you.”

“I don’t care,” she said, taking the ten.

Under the sunlight, her skin hardened. Her wrinkles deepened. Her back bent.

“Thank you,” I said, turning to walk away, “and God bless.”

“God bless,” she said.

Three blocks away I realized I’d never asked her name.

Strike a Pose

“Be quiet, we don’t want to be caught,” the photographer instructs me. He turns to the roof ladder, and leaps up it like a monkey firefighter.

I try not to replay the opening scene in Vertigo. I’m a nervous matchmaker, introducing my right foot to the first rung, hoping they will like one another. They do. The same with the left. Soon both feet are social climbers, leading me to the roof.

The photographer is waiting, and the wind, sunlight and temperature are behaving like his crew – submitting to the moment.

“Now, put on the first outfit,” he says, demonstrating how a whisper can be a command.

“All right,” I say, looking through the outfits. They are overpowering; they are overdone; they are just over. But he’s a friend, so I put them on. Like Ben Folds, I do the best imitation of myself.

Soon he is telling me to do things I don’t do anymore, while making it look like I do…”give me a cocky pose.” I do. “No, like this.” He does it. I do it. “Umm, not quite, here, mirror me.” He does it. I do it. “No, come stand where I’m standing.” He does it. I do it. click. “Done. Next outfit.”

Years ago I saw Paris is Burning, a documentary about vogue balls in New York City. The participants try to pass for their opposite gender or social class. All I know is they walked down that runway like they were walking away from their old selves.