I wander around crowded places looking for empty spaces, traces of life and activity. This predilection to seek emptiness and stasis in the midst of bustle and swarms is, I think, a manifestation of my Capricorn Problem—two places at once, dichotomous nature, pulled in opposing directions, mildly schizophrenic (not really, except maybe sometimes; either way it sounds conveniently dramatic and helps round out the series). I’m not sure what to call this yet: Capricornicopia, Capricornication, Capricornicity, Capricorn-something.
It’s not that I’m looking for opportunities to imagine myself away from all the people around me, although I do suppose this interest in spaces and traces includes a somewhat paradoxical, even if entirely understandable, desire for some space for myself without giving up the close company of urbanity. Either way, I have a suspicious tendency to avoid photographing scenes with very much kinetic activity at all. A person, car, or crowd, anything that, through its time-strapped banality, lends a kitschy feel of being “in the way,” so circumstantial and unrepresentative of anything much beyond the buzz of our moment, will turn me off to what might otherwise be an eye-catching composition.
Having said that, it strikes me that time is probably a bigger part of this fascination with space, depth, distance, angles, stillness, and shapes than I at first realized. It seems there can be such a thing as too much of the present. The out-of-towners riding through the city on rented bicycles wearing silly helmets, travel bags, and vacation clothes—they are too much of the fluff, rather than the essence, of the here and now. That’s one way that time is a factor. Another, I think, stems from an ongoing pursuit of the unbound, the kind of immemoriality which serves as a none-too-literal confluence of past, present, and possible future. Instances like this are arresting, making you stop and think about vantage points, your vantage point and what in that moment it has you seeing and feeling, what it reaches back into and out toward. I think that’s exactly what attracts me: potential and possibility, known and unknown, seen and unseen, in the moment and also several steps out of it too.
No need to wax overly philosophical, though. I can’t overlook the fact that I simply find these kinds of scenes aesthetically pleasing. The presence of a person or two or five doesn’t necessarily destroy that. Every once in a while I’ll catch a glimpse of a face or expression or gait or movement or pose or something that seems to sit beyond time or right there on the edge, lending this quality to otherwise ordinary surroundings. My mind races with wonder and curiosity but I’m never quite ready with camera to catch it. Seems time works against me some too.
It makes me think of Gogol: people-watching was a significant part of his method, and he would devise narratives about the lives and natures of the people he watched, filling in blanks suggested by what he observed and just generally making the rest up. I like to do this too. But it seems you could say that space-watching, and appreciating the simple play of light and contrast and shapes, constructs and nature, past and present, really strikes a chord with me. I’ll gaze into emptinesses and their multifarious elongations and find myself taken away, opened up by senses of mystery and possibility. It’s freeing. And soothing.
Speaking of freeing and soothing, one thing is true of my photographic impulse regardless of subject: I like to be the only one there, and will typically resist the urge to take a photo if other people are doing the same. It doesn’t matter if someone has been there and done it before or will be there and do it later, as long as we’re not there doing it in the same instant. I am reclusive by nature, much, much more an observer than a participant in most cases. I like to think and reflect and wonder in solitude, and I despise the emptiness that creeps into my soul when I begin to feel like a member of a crowd or herd, doing the same thing as everyone else. Capricorns are stubborn and individualistic, good enough at playing along but fond of resistance. So let’s blame this whole thing on astrology for now and leave it at that.
2 thoughts on “traces, empty spaces”
All that empty space. I’m a Capricorn, too. We’re industrious little loner-goats, always looking for someplace to lay our ambitions.
We certainly are. And it’s just as you said in your reply to my comment on your post: we reach out to fill empty spaces and retreat inward when surrounded. Sometimes we need space, sometimes crowds do the trick (or we just find ourselves in one or the other and respond accordingly). I space-watch but it’s space to fill; it might be still but there’s something energetic that grabs me and makes me wonder about all the possible absences that have left it this way or not yet come to occupy and alter it.
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