When you see a photo your eye usually takes in what you can. Even if it’s a photo you’ve taken — such as the one I took above — you’re still looking at it from a different angle than you did at the moment you clicked the photo. Still looking at it differently than at the moment you decided to frame a certain time and space you were experiencing. Still looking at it differently than when you were applying the filters to make the photo worth looking at — more so than the billions of other photos out there.
It should come as no surprise that this might very well be a post-modern piece on the value of any single photo in a world where photos are so ubiquitous as to be part of a larger stream of what makes up the zeitgeist. I’m no great photographer, but I still think every photo can be valuable, even if by taking the photo you’re both changing the moment you’re trying to capture and also adding to the noise out there. Maybe someday some omnipotent AI will tell us a story about all these photos and how the apes that took them, me included, were actually being manipulated by apps that didn’t care about photos but rather were there so as to make us hooked on our phones and also so as to keep us from asking the real deep questions about the ones in power.
Maybe not. I’ll still take photos as I try to tell my stories. In fact, the one above (and here I’ll go on a Bolano type description) was taken at a cafe here in Seattle. A cafe which I thought was unique but which, at the end of the day was just another from a chain that started in Alaska. Yeah, cool huh? Well, the cafe itself is always playing the oddest music. Even unexpected music. I don’t usually like this music and so I try to wear headphones or ear plugs when I’m doing work.
But I digress. On the day of the photo I simply thought that the lighting was interesting and I took the photo though I didn’t think about it until later on Instagram where I smashed the filter buttons to create something worthwhile.
Is it worthwhile?
I’m not sure. The people certainly have a level of concentration not usually found in cafes (of all the cafes I frequent, this one is especially made for the studious).
I didn’t really talk to the baristas. After editing another piece for Intersections, I hadn’t finished as much as I wanted, despite the good coffee. Even the people watching, that is watching the people walking by, wasn’t as interesting as normal.
And this is where I diverge from the likes of Bolano. Why stick with what the photo is describing? I had been working on a piece about people’s reactions to the Paris attacks and as can be the case when usurping your former gods, a sense of darkness swept over me.
That’s probably what slowed me down. That and my money situation. Always aware that I’m pretty close to becoming a homeless vet. Luckily I’m not there yet. But nevertheless, I answered a job posting on reddit. It was based in that cafe and after a few emails, then messages, then texts, I met with the woman who wanted a quick game of chess.
Here I could bore you with the details of how she played game after game before paying me and then offering a double or nothing proposition. I took it before being whisked to a room where large dogs kept watch over me and I played the game of my life, tense as hell, as she made the stakes known to me: my life and the money. I played as she continuously changed the rules.
I barely escaped with my life, but you already knew that, didn’t you?
Anyhow, what’s in a cafe? What’s in a photo of a cafe? It’s not nothing. It’s close, though, as there are millions of photos similar to this one. A google image search could easily prove that. But what of it? What of me. What of the stories we tell ourselves? Are any of them that unique? Does that even matter? What of the lies we tell others to gain something? Shouldn’t that matter more?