Sometimes when I’m going through my photo library, I come back across an image that originally, when I first captured or imported it, didn’t strike me as especially interesting, but with time and reflection catches my attention when I see it again. This is one of those shots.
I took the photo above in the summer or fall of 2018 and not long after I’d gotten back into film with a Leica R-series camera. I was still working in Belltown and would often walk south from there to meet friends in Pioneer Square, passing along 3rd or 2nd Avenue. Camera in hand I was always on the lookout for an interesting moment, but too often the trips through downtown didn’t yield anything compelling.
When I took this image, I’m sure I was drawn to the woman standing across the street from me, waiting to cross as the rush-hour traffic passed hurriedly up University. After getting the negatives back from the lab I overlooked it, thinking the blurred traffic and distance from the subject made it less than ideal. The scan went into the catalog, the negative in the case, and then I posted a version to Instagram. Nothing more happened with it since.
Zipping to the present day I was sorting through all the photos I’d ever taken with a Leica to submit three to the upcoming LHSA showcase in October. So here I on a weekend scrolling through a couple of thousand images looking more closely and critically then I usually do. When I came across this image again, I knew it didn’t fit the theme of the exhibit. Still, I saw something new in this picture that made me want to reconsider it. Three years of more serious photography gave me enough perspective to see past some of the technical limitations in the photo to a deeper, more interesting view.
The blurred traffic and the woman’s expression at the curb fit more perfectly than I had seen before. Something about her impatience, whether waiting for the light or something else, comes through as the world moves past her. Behind her, to her left in the image, are two other women having completely different experiences. The first is studying her phone intent on the device, ignoring what’s around her. In the rear is someone appearing to joyfully walk up the street, a contrast to the two others ahead of her. Together these three women, though clearly strangers, connect each other within the photograph.
Also in the background was a bank window advertisement asking “What Are Your Goals” as a way of touting their various financial products. It’s a question that applies not only to the pedestrians in the photograph but to the viewer as well — what are your goals? What’s waiting across the street or in the next block for you? In the original Instagram post (and now broken blog, thanks IFTT) I’d cropped the photo into the IG square, removing the original’s wider viewpoint that brings the sign into play. The narrower square cropping removes most of the second car, diminishing the contrast between the fast-moving vehicles and the pedestrians as well as the bank’s window sign and message. What I thought was distracting in 2018 feels necessary in 2021. The older IG square edit as a much less interesting picture of people on a Seattle street corner The full photograph hints at, though doesn’t completely reveal, a story.
I’ve written here about trying to become more thoughtful in my photographic practice so that I’m trying to see the image before I press the shutter, to capture what I imagine not just whatever the camera is pointed at. When I took this picture, I consciously saw some, but not all, of the elements that I think make it interesting. Three years later I see how much more was in the capture to catch the eye and attention, looking beyond technical shortcomings (it could be sharper) towards a fully story in the image. It’s taught me another good lesson about seeing my photographs differently.