Disposable Diaries: Tale of Two Cities

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Hopping from the East to the South draws each region into sharp contrast. Against the tall and narrow East, the South seems wider. Twangy recorded voicemails, the norm, strike me as peculiar (“hah-lo, yoo’ve reached–“) Cityscapes turn to landscapes and steel structures melt to lake water. Welcome home, where it’s hotter, quieter, sunnier, brighter, lazier, slower, flatter and bigger.

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Wal-Mart might have lost my first roll of disposable film, but at least they didn’t lose my second. I’m still a little miffed about them (or FujiFilm) losing the first; I’d carried it around for a year, documenting my summer in China, vacation in the Bahamas, life in Philadelphia, etc. But I’ll look on the bright side: hey, they didn’t lose this second roll.

The photos turned out surprisingly well–it can be pretty hit-or-miss when it comes to film. Unlike digital, I’ll have no idea how disposable photos will turned out ’til they’ve been sent off, processed, developed and printed. Sometimes a shot of the living room turns out as washed-out black grain. Other times, a shot of a sneaker turns out to be weirdly artsy. It’s fun. It’s experimental. Generally, though, I’d say you can’t go wrong with landscape film.

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Up until yesterday, when I got the photos, I’d forgotten that I’d carried my camera from one city to another. It’s interesting seeing images of the East juxtaposed with those of the South, watching them go from being gritty and overcast to saturated in blue.

Disposable Diaries | Roll 1

God, I love shooting with disposable cameras. There’s an art to shooting film: getting perfect shots are a crapshoot, so experiment; humans are better photographed candid than posed; keep subjects far away so they won’t be blurred; there has to be just enough spontaneity to really make the photo.

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There’s an ineffable quality to disposables that I have difficulty putting into words. I can’t explain the beauty of it except that there just is.

For a while, I associated disposables with old school, low quality shit, elementary-school days. Times when phone cameras weren’t a thing, and real cameras were too valuable to let kids use. So they gave us these cheap hunks of plastic to take onto field trips and ruin. Fast forward ten years and now I love disposables; I drool over experimental film. And I don’t think I’m the only one enamored with film aesthetic. Polaroids, the high-end cool sister of disposables, are ‘in’. VSCO and Instagram, popular iPhone apps, emulate traditional film with filters, light leaks, etc. At some point, though, light leaks weren’t a deliberate digital effect on photos; they were film ‘mistakes’.

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Usually I find that the less planning, the better. Which, initially, might be counterintuitive. Unlike with digital cameras, you can’t photograph a hundred images and delete the worst. You have a limited number of shots, and you won’t know how they turn out until they’re developed. But meticulously planning photos, whether with iPhones or DSLRs, takes me out of the moment. I’m more concerned about the image than the scene, the post than the place. Film’s quick, immediate, doesn’t give me time to ruminate or edit or post. It’s more fun to keep an eye out for interesting places, odd angles, messy spaces, take the shot, and go.

Oftentimes, the photos turn out better than I’d have imagined. It’s a little hit-or-miss, but the best film photos are better than their digital counterparts.

Seeing President Barack Obama

obama-resizeYesterday I went to see President Obama; today my photo on the front page of the student newspaper. Has it hit me yet? …Not really. Note: I always end up writing these things when I’m dead-tired so I can’t infuse this post with all the jittery wild warm happiness that imbued all of yesterday and mostly today. So just take my word for it when I say it was goddamn incredible.

Aronnd noon, my friends and I Lyfted over to the rally. We got in line, went through security, and I skipped around photographing people at the rally. It was my second political rally (in a week!) and I’m starting to realize how much I love these things. One: they’re perfect photojournalism fodder. Two: the people there are so great and impassioned and friendly. The people around me, in particular, were quite kind–I’m short and so crowds are usually the worst, but they saw me screaming my head off with a giant camera and helped usher me closer to the front. Later, I collected their emails so I could send them the photos.

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Then, of course, the President (!). I still haven’t come to terms with the reality: I saw the President. I heard the President. I watched him wave around on stage and denounce Trump and laud Clinton and tally up all the progress this nation’s made during his terms. But I didn’t cry. See, every time I see Obama on television I cry a little, no lie, but not this time. And it wasn’t television, it was real life; he was right there in front of me. Cracking jokes in all seriousness, yelling “love you too” to some person in the crowd, talking about gas prices, tax records, Clinton’s BAMF record. I totally lost my shit when he stepped out. Started screaming at the top of my lungs because I do that when I’m shocked. “Yup, he’s basically a rock star,” somebody said beside me.

He’s just as magnetic, impassioned and eloquent in real life as he is on television.

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I have photos, videos, articles, quotes, emails, a recollection of my being there, proof I was there, but they’re like puzzle pieces that haven’t yet fit together into an image of Realization. The gravity of it–the personal gravity, anyways–hasn’t sunk in yet. I guess I’m just saying that this means so much to me I can’t even begin to fathom how much it means to me. That’s why I think other students saying, “oh, I couldn’t go, I had class” is just absurd–turning down an opportunity to see one of the most powerful people and figures in history fifteen minutes away because, oh, class?!? If we’re talkin’ class, I’d miss a midterm to see Obama, flunk an assignment to see Obama, and that’s just the start. When I’m older, I’m not going to give half a shit about that one class I had at 1:30 on September 13th, but I won’t forget the time I saw and photographed Obama. I won’t forget that during the last year of his term, he was here, and I was there, and that I had the chance to see and listen to him in real life. The President. And not just any president–President Obama, yo.

Ten minutes before his speech ended, HF motioned for us to go. It was perfect timing; we snaked through the crowd and slipped out right as the gates closed. The weather was beautiful, so we stopped by CVS to grab drinks and walked through the city back to campus. For the rest of the day I couldn’t stop dancing or wanting to dance. Obama, Obama, Obama.

Jiangyin, China

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Jiang Yin is beautiful (and for a million reasons).

There is a certain gritty you-do-your-own-thing feel to the streets of China. They’re often crowded; the markets always are. Sometimes people push and shove but after a while you get used to it. Babies roam—sometimes with a watchful guardian’s eye tailing them, but usually not. Strays, quite frankly, don’t give a shit. They trot and they stumble and play by the people, who pay them no notice.

Cigarette smoke lingers in the air: at home, in the streets, in the markets. There’s a “NO SMOKING” tacked on the entrance of the “grocery market” (if you’d call it that—it’s more like a giant meat cafeteria) The butchers smoke anyways. I watch as the butcher chops our meat, takes a drag and picks up the RMB another smoker slaps down. First I peer at the smoke wisps. Then I dodge them.

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The past week has mostly been spent with le fam. Over the weekend, my cousin returned from a neighboring province where he’s been working. Grandma says I’m prettier and that my skin resembles Putin’s (Thanks, G-Ma). My Chinese listening skills have improved and I can better understand Ma, Uncle and Grandma rattling on in their dialect; I take to sitting and quietly absorbing their conversations. During the weekdays, when time seems to go by slower, I wander around the neighborhood. I photograph strangers. I take it all in.

China feels like home. Can you fall in love with “home” over and over and over again? I think you can and I do every time.

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Some Obscure Sorrow

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As I was cleaning the house, I stumbled upon college brochures to universities I ended up not going to. Meanwhile, the house had erupted in dust, my nose was running up a storm and I sat there wondering what this feeling might be called.

It reminded me of a site called the dictionary of obscure sorrows. True to its name, it includes obscure sorrow after obscure sorrow, from exulansis [n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate] to altschmerz [n. weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had.] Note: completely on empathy-board with the second one, particularly at 3AM as I jotted down: there’s no time elapsing space passing I’m just lying here still paralyzed and wishing–

And I wondered if there was a term for the sense of “would have, could have, should have (didn’t)”. Would have taken this path, could have gone down that road, should have backtracked, but in the end I didn’t. Every second, it seems, we’re veering left-right-and-center onto multiple forks on this road o’ life, making decisions that culminate into this giant knot of now. And now I’m wondering small thoughts like oh, what if I’d gone to this school? Been on this campus? What if, instead of being surrounded by city and lights, I’d been surrounded by, oh, trees and school buses? And maybe I’d have felt different but maybe I’d have felt the same, but I don’t think I’d be the same or that I’d be who I am now.

And I think that’s okay.

Sometimes there’s a voice in my head quoting something I must have read, and it goes: “has it ever occurred to you that maybe you are exactly where are you supposed to be?” Well. Not really. But then again, maybe I am and we all are, y’know, right where we’re supposed to be….

So despite whatever obscure sorrow this has yet to be coined, I look back and like to believe that there’s purpose, if not order. And even though sometimes the world seems to be blowing to shit and we’re huddled in fear and sadness and so much fear I think back to a poem I read and saved when I was 17:

as a reminder

the world is heavy but your bones (just a cubic inch) can hold 19,000 lbs

ounce for ounce
they are stronger than steel

atom for atom
you are more precious than diamond

and stars have died

so that you may live

The whole point of the dancing is the dance

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“In music one doesn’t make the end of a composition the point of the composition.  If that were so the best conductors would be those who played fastest, and there would be composers who wrote only finales. People would go to concerts just to hear one crashing chord; because that’s the end!

But we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our every day conduct. We’ve got a system of schooling that gives a completely different impression. It’s all graded. And yeah, you go to kindergarten, and that’s a great thing, because when you finish that, you’ll get into first grade. And then you get out of grade school you go to high school….

Then you’re going to go to college, and by jove then you get into graduate school, and when you’re through with graduate school, you’ll go out to join the world. And then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance. And they’ve got that quota to make. And you’re going to make that.

And all the time, this thing is coming, it’s coming, it’s coming—that great thing, the success you’re working for.

Then when you wake up one day about forty years old, you say “My God! I’ve arrived! I’m there!” And you don’t feel very different from what you always felt. And there’s a slight letdown, because you feel there’s a hoax. And there was a hoax. A dreadful hoax. They made you miss everything. By expectation.

Because we’ve simply cheated ourselves, the whole way down the line. We thought of life by analogy was a journey, was a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end. And the thing was to get to that end. Success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead.

But we missed the point the whole way along.

It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing, or to dance, while the music was being played.”

-Alan Watts

Sometimes it feels like we are all in an elusive pursuit of the abstract and unattainable, like notions of “happiness” or “success”. And so we rush through life and go through the motions, thinking that if we make some more money or win some more recognition we’ll have finally hit the jackpot.

But then we lose sight of it all and we lose sight of the music in our desperate scurry towards the end and then when it does end we realize that the point all along had just been to listen.