Monday, March 23, 2015

Party Photography and a Weird Weekend

What a strange weekend.

Last week proved to a test of mettle inasmuch as it applies to my office life. Times have grown tumultuous and I suspect need for my employ in the realm of the traditional 9-to-5 may have finally run its course. Granted, I could be reading the cards all wrong, and the natural cycle of contraction in business may overlook me entirely, but I've been unable to entertain anything less than a weirdly optimistic demeanor at the concept of my formal unemployment. Plainly stated, I am excited to pursue photography as a full time endeavor, and the mere notion that my otherwise congested schedule may suddenly open up to indulge more photo work, perhaps even enough to realistically sustain my day to day living, excites me.

Instead of remaining realistic and appropriately cautious, I felt like celebrating. And as luck would have it, I had been invited out to enjoy and photograph one Baltimore's more risque fringe artistic franchises, the burlesque show.

I've always had an affinity for event and party photography. The energy of the dance floor compounded by intoxication and comradery functions as fuel for in-your-face approaches for photos (in contrast to the otherwise mousy demeanor of introversion I often default to in heavily social situations). If the show itself wasn't such an enjoyable degree of awkward disarmament itself, the intermission and after party certainly sealed the deal for a remarkably fun night. With reckless abandon, I took to the arbitrarily designated dance floor of the venue and proceeded to make a fool of myself, camera in hand raised well above the crowd to capture the mood and environment for the aimlessly good time that it was.

Historically my chosen kit for such venues has always been more diminutive, typically the E-P3 and 17mm f/1.8 with a YN-560 and a couple hard settings such that I could let loose and allow post processing to make up for whatever shortcomings from shot to shot. The approach Friday night wasn't all that different, only with the added versatility of a usable ISO 1600 to ISO 5000 on the E-M1 and TTL metering of flash with the FL-600R. From standpoint of experience, the two approaches may as well have been interchangeable. With the bulk of flash added to the mix the size and handling differences of the E-P3 and E-M1 were negated. Greater challenge presented itself in managing my own level of drunkenness in the high energy party atmosphere than any technical challenge presented by a camera. In general, I was able to partake in a great show, a great party, make it home (somehow) and have a collection of terrific photos to share.

Unlike other such events of which I've attended, I passed out a lot of business cards this time around. Quietly, I'm hoping that produces a benefit of sorts in the invitation to photograph future events of the like. And even if the invitation isn't openly extended, I certainly intend to participate in events of this very Baltimore sort more frequently because I found a curious comfort in the company attending. Retracted as I may become in heavily social venues (or at least retracted in respect to putting up a defensive front), I do enjoy meeting strangers and getting to know people, and when the venue inherently breaks down all traditional defenses by virtue of absurdity and forward openness, it's worlds easier to speak to people, engage them, actually utter the words "Can I please take you picture". I'd like to think of it as a coming-out-of-your-shell party.


The next day proved strange in different ways.

I was invited to tour the venue of a couple whose wedding I'm slated to photograph in June. A small wedding of maybe some 40 attendees, and of more the traditional arrangement than my previous wedding for a lesbian couple merging Catholic and Jewish families. Their chosen marriage grounds are on the site of the old Charles Carroll House in Annapolis, a pre-USA mansion of a place with an elaborately decorated church connected to its structure. Based on the tour, it should be a ton of fun in which to shoot, with plans in place for the entire reception to be lit by nothing but candlelight.

When I first arrived, however, parallel parking in a tight space squarely against the curb (real estate shooting on weekends in the city has augmented my parallel parking skills tremendously), a woman knocked on my window with a smile. I rolled the window down to have her gush in amusement, "That was perfect, I ain't never seen anybody park like that before". I couldn't help but laugh in response at being complimented on my parking.

She proceeded to recount a sort of sob story I've heard from panhandlers for years. Her kids were dropped off at a sitter in Annapolis but she needed to get back to Deale, MD, her hometown, to collect her car and other son, and her ride was nowhere to be found. Her request was for help getting back to Deale via cab (the only way to get down there from Annapolis without one's own car), and needed money to afford the trip. Based on an experience years back taking a cab back to Deale, the end tab for the ride would be $120. No small sum.

I've denied panhandlers many times before. I'm used to a Baltimore class of homeless, and with rampant heroin addiction plaguing the city it's often easy to recognize addicts looking to fund their next fix. However I've always indulged a history of sitting down and talking with homeless over the years, listening to stories of how and why situations became desperate, whether real or contrived. With this woman I was rather on the fence in all honesty. She didn't have the appearance of homeless or drug addict, yet I wasn't entirely confident in the truth of her story. Since meeting her on Saturday, I've been recounting the encounter, trying to narrow down to an underlying reason why I did as I did with her. Whether I allowed myself to be hustled in avoidance of conflict in denying this woman or perhaps feeling a desperate need to make a clear difference in someone's life in the heat of the moment. The end action remains the same. We walked down to the bar 2 blocks away, I pulled $120 out of an ATM, handed it to her and said "Have a nice day". She wasn't even particularly thankful. Just awkward, but clearly with her own business in mind. She did ask for my number and speak of paying me back, but I opted instead to simply end the encounter there and part ways. Either I genuinely made her life easier or I gave a stranger $120 for no reason.

I should have asked to take her picture. I'd say I'll remember that next time, but I'm not so sure I know how comfortable I feel with the notion of a next time in regards to such an encounter.

My real estate shoots later that Saturday and the following Sunday played in line with the weirdness by feeling similarly awkward and unconventional. One client was clearly in the business of running illegal hotels in DC, still not entirely sure how to reconcile that or what to do about it. Another I never met, but was rather let into the house by his children, never to share words with him before, during or after the work. I shot for a political consultant who seemed like a great person but with the same kind of awkwardness I often present in cold turkey one on one encounters, with mixed up speech and clearly unsure posture and movement. The last shoot of the weekend was nice, at least, with a client who had listed her home for rental many times before but never had professional photos of those properties taken. I let her sift through the RAW images on my camera before leaving and she gushed in excitement and gave me a high five (probably the first one not forced by managers in my office trying to seem likable and down to earth). What little remainder was left of that Sunday was spent trying to recenter, and oddly I found myself thrilled to have work in the morning as if it were an anchor upon which I could settle both mind and spirit. I hate admitting that it helped in both regards.


This week looks to be theoretically light on office obligations, and appropriately I have filled that void of pressing matters with photo work to which I will retreat in the early afternoons and return for a late evening at the office. Arguably I'm sitting on a generous stack of time off I could be spending to go out, enjoy life, enjoy my time, but with the begrudging return of cold weather I find myself more inclined to wait and suffer the boredom until warmer days make themselves apparent. I owe far too many people a photo outing. I owe far too many friends the light of day I've denied them under self-imposed pressures of weekend photo work. I owe myself some time and experience not dedicated to demands of other peoples' dollars.

I'll learn this work/life balance thing soon enough.