The camera can be cruel. It taunts you with the ability to capture an image that has meaning to you, one that evokes memory or emotion. But that image is often elusive, seemingly just beyond reach.
When I first started taking photos, my first instinct was to question the settings or gear when I couldn’t get the shot I wanted. That didn’t last long. I’m not a student of art or photography, but I think I’m able to appreciate and learn from them. Seeing works from photographers like Cartier-Bresson and Capa helped me realize that, for me at least, composition, timing, and a familiarity with the subject are far more important than the camera or the lens.
There’s a coffee shop in Capitol Hill that I really like – Joe Bar. Intimate place. Small kitchen area and limited seating. Sometimes, you’re just out of luck and have to get the coffee to go, especially since the steps leading up to the balcony area seem like an invitation for a spilled coffee. But even when the place is full, it doesn’t feel packed or crammed. There are usually two people working, serving up coffee, crepes, and banter. The good kind of banter – talking about the neighborhood, discussing movies or music, and catching up with regulars. A lot of the people (including me) sitting at the tables have a laptop or a phone in front of them, but for some reason, it doesn’t have the Mac Zombie vibe you sometimes find in other coffee joints.
In short, I really like this place. I like the look and feel of it. Which makes it all the more frustrating that I haven’t been able to get a photo of it that conveys the things about Joe Bar that I like. I haven’t been going there long. I’ll keep trying for the photograph, and maybe in time I’ll look back at one of my old photos and see it differently. Or it will remain just out of grasp.
A final thought: to capture an image, a photo, or an emotion sounds pretty aggressive, doesn’t it. I’ll keep using the expression – it’s practical and clear, but I imagine somewhere there is a Zen photographer counseling aspiring photographers to abandon the pursuit of the big capture.