I take photographs and people often tell me they like the photographs I take. This is gratifying and I’m always grateful for any positive comments. I almost always like the photos that receive positive comments, but I notice that some of my favorites don’t usually evoke a response from others. Reactions to photographs, whether positive or negative, are highly individualized. All the so-called rules of composition and lighting will help make a photo better than it otherwise might be, but I think the “photographic experience” is an interaction that moves at several levels. To start, there is the interaction between the photographer and the subject, and next, there is the interaction between the viewer and the photograph. Embodied in these two first-level interactions, however, are several other levels of response and meaning that make the viewer’s response to a photograph a highly complex affair, even though that reaction may occur instantaneously.
Below is a photo I snapped in Beijing, China back in 2005. It has always been a favorite of mine, even though no one who has seen it has (as far as I know) ever said anything about it.
Here we see a commuter getting a breath of fresh air on a city bus one afternoon in May, 2005. I have always thought of the commuter as a young woman, but it is possible I’m mistaken. Below her is an ad for Suntory, a large Japanese conglomerate that makes alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, and pharmaceuticals. Among other operations, it is Suntory that has the concession for Pepsi Cola in Japan.
For me there is an enigmatic quality to the photograph. The isolated profile of the young woman in the window makes me wonder who she is. What is her story? I want to know if this is her daily commute and whether she on the way home, or on the way to work. Long daily commutes can be boring. Is she bored? And then, there is Suntory. Is the commuter remotely aware of Suntory? Does Suntory intersect with her life in any way at all that is not purely analytic?
Apart from any visual merits the photo may have, it brings together in close proximity several elements of contemporary life that, once considered, leave me in a state of reflective uneasiness.