The Weight of the Past

One of the joys and perils of a life in photography is that you are never free of the weight of the past. Saving images of What Has Happened is what we do. Attempting to foil the Plan of the Universe for Humans to experience time as a one way street does not come without its dangers. These perils are only compounded by the unparalleled access to an entire photographic personal history & archive via digital cataloging, search, and database technology such as Adobe Lightroom.

This morning, while tending to my archive in the Sisyphean task of holding it to a manageable size, I stumbled upon a quartet of images: My lame attempts at a selfie upon meeting Martin Parr, one of my longtime photographic idols, at the Chicago National SPE Conference in Chicago, at 7:39 PM, March 7, 2013. I am able to recall these facts with such precision not because I have an impressively specific and accurate memory, nor because I was so gobsmacked with this brief and random meeting with a hero that the event was forever emblazoned on my consciousness. Far from it, in fact. It’s just that Adobe Lightroom makes it impossible to let go of memories that in some cases would be better off buried under the layers of grocery lists, appointments, deadlines, and pastrami and swiss on rye that will inevitably intervene over the merciful days and months and years that will hopefully follow.

In this particular moment, I had arrived early for Parr’s lecture to assure a good seat in the audience, and was surprised to find him sitting for a moment alone in the dim conference lobby, looking a bit bored. I screwed up my courage to approach him, and somehow managed to mumble a more or less coherent introduction, which thankfully I do not recall. What can an acolyte and an idol, who have no actual personal connection, and nothing but obvious strained shop talk with which to fill the awkwardness of such an encounter do next, but take a selfie, and move on. Embarrassingly, my first two attempts at this, the most brainless of all photographic genres, proved total failures, and the third barely passible. The famously comedic Martin quipped, as he consented to a fourth, final, and possibly even more dismal photograph, “I hope you aren’t a photographic educator yourself.” Of course he had no way of knowing that I’d recently been delivered a letter informing me of some very grave news regarding my future employment as a photographic educator.

In any event, my punctuality earned me the right to enjoy Parr’s effortlessly brilliant and hilarious lecture from the front row, a perspective that allowed me to make some more than passable images of Martin in his glory. And from my current perspective more than a year later, maybe the recollection of this moment is not so painful after all.

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