Competitive Swimming

March 17, 2011

“If I were just curious, it would be very hard to say to someone, ‘I want to come to your house and have you talk to me and tell me the story of your life.’ I mean people are going to say, ‘You’re crazy.’ Plus they’re going to keep mighty guarded. But the camera is a kind of license. A lot of people, they want to be paid that much attention and thats a reasonable kind of attention to be paid” -Diane Arbus

I got to thinking about this quote this year and thought it would be interesting to test it out and photograph one, if not several people in their own habitats, in private sessions. I do not think it is easy to photograph people on the street by any means, but I am much more fascinated with people in their own dwellings. A person’s residence has the ability to say everything and nothing about their personalities all at once and its very overwhelming and exciting and  peculiar all at the same time. Sometimes there are a lot of books and furniture and rugs and photographs. Other times there are just books and a mattress. Still others, just a bed and a set of drapes. Everyone being so disarmingly different, to be accepted into their home, it is this sort of vulnerability that they are offering to display to you. It is a portrait that you will not receive on a park bench or in a field of grass. It is the most intimate and the most mysterious.

I was off and running with this idea, but when the time came, I had a lot of doubts. I’m not a good enough photographer. What if I forget how to work my camera. What’s the point of doing this if you know everyone else has done it before. You probably know them, many of us have these irrational types of nervous doubts about ourselves. Still, I kept on.

I chose one man in particular that I was acquainted with. He fascinated me. I knew he was somewhat soft spoken, and that he had many beautiful tattoos, but there was something behind his black-framed-glasses-bike-riding-i-wear-tight-pants facade that I just couldn’t put my finger on. I arrived at his apartment one cold evening with my travel case and my camera. At first I did indeed feel like my camera was the only thing protecting me from feeling awkward, and I’m not going to lie it was slightly strange. All of the doubts were hitting me hard as I was unpacking my camera and shakily fitting it with the right lens. But still, I thought of Diane, and just began to shoot.

For a split second right after I took the first picture, everything froze, and I didn’t realize until later but I’d remembered where I’d had felt this feeling before. I used to swim competitively on a swimteam when I was younger and right before each race, they’d sit us on this row of benches until it was your turn to race. You’d move up towards the starting blocks with each next person. I remember sitting on those benches and being incredibly nervous about any and all aspects of the two or four laps I was about to swim. I kept having to psych myself up to discourage fleeing the pool area all-together. Eventually, it was my turn and the second I dove into the water, the mind was quiet. In that split second, all of the fear and nervousness and doubt melted away. The body took over. It was just me and the strokes and my breathing.

As I continued to photograph this man on that cold evening, we talked about his past and how’d he found himself in New York. Later, what I realized had hit me after the first photograph, what had made itself abundantly clear to me, was that the project itself was just as much an experiment in portraiture as it was a matter of me pushing past my own doubts as a photographer. I acknowledged that if I can get myself to dive off the blocks into the pool, the rest of my instinct takes over. Once i’m shooting, i’m not thinking about whether i’m good enough, or if anyone will care about the pictures, or if it’s going to come out right. All of the fear and nervousness and doubt melts away. Its just me and the strokes and my breathing.

In his apartment, all the walls were white and bare, however I cannot tell you this man’s story. It is as if it was told for the camera, it holds the secrets I cannot share.

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One Response to “Competitive Swimming”


  1. […] Read the original: Competitive Swimming « Samantha Lauren Photographie […]


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