Perfect Stranger

The boy is sitting across two seats. He leans against a window with his chin down. His shaggy brown hair falls over his eyes. Without the presence of his eyes, it is impossible to tell if he is asleep or awake. He wears blue jeans and a grey t-shirt under his olive-green and black checkered flannel shirt. His long legs are half-bent, cradling the notebook in which he writes. Patches of sunlight hit his knees and bring life to the notebook and sharpie in his hands. The notebook is bound in white paper and has gold foil on the edge of each page. The sharpie stands upright. He is a stranger.

It is strange that there is such a disconnect between the picture that I have captured above, and the memory that I associate with this image.

I had been sitting complacently, on the shuttle to the airport, when I noticed the boy across the aisle from me take out a notebook and start writing in it. Every few moments, the sharpie would rise to his chin as he sat contemplating whatever thoughts ran through his mind. I don’t know why I was struck by the moment, but the more furtive glances I cast at him, the more I wanted to take his photograph. I have always had this compulsive desire to photograph strangers because I know nothing about them. I have come to recognize that the act of photographing a stranger is essentially selfish. They remain unknown to me forever, telling only as much as the photograph allows them to say. Their image speaks more to a moment in my life, than a moment in their life. The memory I associate with this image centers around how nervous I was when I asked this boy if I could take his photo, how brave I felt after asking him, how excited (and less creepy) I felt when he agreed whole-heartedly and how giddy I was to see how the picture would turn out.

Oddly enough, the photograph is mediocre. The focus is not exactly where I want it to be and the composition is not great. It could have been an accidental photograph. If the memory had not been so strong, I would have passed over this without a second glance  while scrolling through my photo folders. As Perec points out, writing is the “assertion of my life” (Perec, 42). It is only through writing about this photograph that I can tell my story, my memory. It is only through writing that I am able to breathe life into this rather dull photograph.

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