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Old Friends

I’ve been engaged in a different, for me, photo project the past month or so, which has kept me off the blogosphere as I’ve been trying to figure out how I wanted to proceed.  The problem began when I purchased a new lens (as is often the case) that changed my view of reality.  The lens is an older manual focus Nikkor, which has an aperture, at its widest of F1.2.  For those of you who are not into photography, that has two effects,  One is that if used at F1.2, the subject appears to completely pop out of the background due to the lens’ tiny depth of field.  The second effect stems from the fact that it’s basically impossible to make an affordable lens that is sharp at F1.2 and as such, the scene begins to take on a dream like quality.  So I was wandering through Elm Park in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts with the lens mounted on a film camera (Nikon F6) and happened to capture this image.


The image, captured on black and white film (Ilford XP2 for the curious) grabbed me, and I found myself mentally journeying back to one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs, “Old Friends”:  “Sat on their park bench like bookends,” and “can’t you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly, how terribly strange to be seventy.” (You can purchase the song, written by Paul Simon and recorded in 1968, from their website, here.)

Elm Park is a very important place for such moments.  It was one of the first public parks established in the United States and it was not designed for recreation (no ball fields), but for contemplation, for thought, for escape. So it was easy to imagine the characters from Paul Simon’s song sitting here, and indeed throughout the park.  The photography then began in earnest.



But alas, I began over the visits to notice the state of the Park.


Not good.  This is not a surprise, let me stress.  What struck me is that I was so used to the poor condition of the Park that I had become immune to it.  What I was doing, without initially realizing it, was engaging in what some call “decay photography.”  Such work is inspired by locations such as Detroit, where architectural decay is visible nearly everywhere.  But this isn’t Detroit.


The irony in all this is that not far from my home, in Worcester, the City is putting in a new park, one oriented more toward recreation.  I’m not a NIMBY kind of guy, so I’m not against the building of new parks, even those that will impact my neighborhood.  I do worry though about deferred maitanance of a crown jewel like Elm Park.  (As a business school prof, I understand the difference between capital and operating budgets.  That being said, the more you build, the more you have to take care of so the two are not as disconnected as some would have you believe.)  I’m going to need some place to sit in the Park in ten years when it’s my turn.  Here’s hoping.


Happy New Year and may we all avoid a cliff, tomorrow!

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi James.
    Yes, your park is in need of some TLC and probably the funds are going elsewhere, which is a shame. What is this thing you speak of… film?
    I am not afraid of the big, bad cliff…at least not right now. Not solved in a few weeks or month then we need to worry. But it does sound like a small compromise in the works.

    Happy New Year to you and Chris.

    December 31, 2012
  2. Hi Steve

    Film is this removable sensor. It’s an amazing product actually though it has some limitations. You can change your sensor, without having to buy a new camera, which is refreshing to say the least. It is quite expensive and you can’t process it completely by yourself (at least I can’t), but because of all that I find myself shooting in a more mindful fashion. In all seriousness, a few of these images were in fact shot in digital, but when I printed them out, the digital images were too perfect in some way. This particular subject matter just seemed to lend itself to film. But, indeed, it is a PITA to work with. Watching the grass grow is positively thrilling compared to scanning film.

    Right on the cliff. At this point in my life though, I prefer to take the stairs. Happy New Year and thanks for commenting.


    January 2, 2013
  3. Alva Hunt #

    I just read your new years blog. I think it is one of your best. Loved the analogy with Paul Simon. Also statements regarding the upkeep of parks. Go to Paris. They know how to keep up parks. I accidentally touched a pic. in the email. It sent me to the web site. I believe the pictures looked better in the website. Could just be me. Keep plugging. I always enjoy reading your blog. Al

    Sent from my iPad

    January 2, 2013

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