Thursday, March 24, 2011

Low Key Curiosity

This image perplexes me. Seriously, it really does. Of the entirety of my gallery on Flickr ( this image has been visited and revisited more than most. In fact, the only image that beats it has a story of police overreach involved and everybody starts drooling over a good police brutality story so that hardly counts. No, this image has been met with inordinate amounts of popularity on its own merits and I can't for the life of me figure out why.

Back in 2008 I was working for a security firm serving as the overnight babysitter of contractor facilities. It was a great job with a light workload and good pay, but being on a night schedule committed murder to my social life. About the only person in my circle of friends who was ever awake at the ungodly hours I was happened to be an old buddy from high school by the name of Milt. Both of us were night owls, neither by our choice. As such, we spent every mutual night off work in his above-garage bachelor pad, a den of video games, nostalgia and general nerdom. Out in the middle of the woods and well away from neighbors we would rock out without a care. They were good times.

Christmas had just passed 3 months back and the treasure of a gift I received was my first DSLR, a Nikon D40x. I was ecstatic, thrilled, giddy... and terrified. For years prior I had only worked with the WYSIWYG styles of point-and-shoot style cameras. I was used to seeing the effects of white balance, exposure and image processing directly before an image was taken. With a prism my safety blanket was gone. The confidence I'd built was shattered because I didn't see what I was capturing beforehand. Such a simple, nonsense worry, but it was there nonetheless. This new tool was amazingly powerful but I was too insecure to use it.

One particular night at Milt's I brought the new baby Nikon to try and exercise it. Milt had just purchased a new bass guitar to jam on, a crisp mahogany colored piece with a rich sound that would shake your gut until butterflies fluttered. With generally not a damn clue as to what I was doing I set the camera to black and white, opened the aperture wide and started snapping. It was my first time making any real use of the glass cannon, so I experimented, moving physically in and out, trying to find some sweet spot as Milt's hands tickled the strings and swung the neck about in trance. The light was abysmal, a single fluorescent lamp on the ceiling resulting in shots that were either half lit, not lit at all or grossly overexposed depending on the luck of the draw (damn all 60hz lighting). The dance of musician and photographer lasted all of maybe 20 minutes before I grew bored with the lightbox and moved on to the six string.

At work the next day I sifted through the small assortment of images I'd collected the night prior. For a twist of luck several came out more than simply decent. At the time I was a whore for DeviantArt and uploaded several but over time that image above was the only one that ever held enough impact for me to keep around once I'd moved on. It is among the very first truly strong images I made with an SLR, and as such, I mark it as the beginning of my adoption of photography as more than simply a hobby. Not long after this image a surge of confidence saw me investing in new, faster lenses, flashguns and real image editing software. I developed an actual post process, more than simple contrast/brightness adjustments. I began booking weddings and band shoots. Money was exchanged. Photo contests were won. I slipped down the slippery slope. And all because of 20 minutes and a bass guitar.

It's a good image. Personally I don't feel that it's particularly great, but apparently that opinion isn't shared among the general populace, at least on Flickr. The image has a story, yes, but it doesn't tell it. I will forever wonder what attracts people to that photo.