The place where you live is seldom the place where you take most of your photos. Why is that? We go elsewhere to see something new – and of course, that’s when you bring a camera, that’s when you experience the world. But the world is right here. Always around us. I started off this project with just that thought: take pictures where you are. I did this to make it easy for myself, to not fail at the beginning of a year-long challenge. To ease in.
But then it stuck. Not because it was the easiest thing – it was, but easy things that are boring are among my least favorite things to do – but because I felt it was interesting. And it wasn’t done enough. Who out there was taking pictures of here, of my neighborhood? Certainly no one on this website, and no one at all with my perspective. In Cologne, people tend to stick to their “Veedel”, local dialect for “Viertel” – their quarter, or neighborhood. It’s almost as if the city is dozens of little villages that happen to sit very close next to each other. This is, here, a lifestyle. As an outsider, I haven’t quite grasped it yet, but it is a nice thought; to belong somewhere that is small and has its own identity.
Before the advent of digital photography, comedian George Carlin had a bit about things he didn’t care for called “Free Floating Hostility”. One of the items on his list was the existence of one hour photo finishing: “How can you be nostalgic about a concept like ‘a little while ago’?” he asked incredulously. Behind the joke is an understanding of how most of us see picture-taking: photos are always only of other times, other places. And you need distance, spatial or temporal, to “correctly” enjoy them. While this has changed with the snap-happy, instagramy culture of now, some aspects about it remain. Photos document things that cannot be experienced again. But where you live is experienced every day.
Some street photographers (Think Gary Winogrand or Robert Doisneau) took pictures mainly of “their” city or their neighborhood, but the photos documented things that were not repeatable: those three people walking down that street at that time of day would never come together again in quite the same way. In a “you can’t step in the same river twice” kind of fashion, at least. And yes, on a fundamental level everything always changes and Wednesday is already past on Thursday. But there seems to be a dearth of documentation of the repeatable everyday while it is being repeated. It is not special enough. It is not “worthy” of a photograph. Sure, one day that street sign will be replaced by a new, shinier version. That road might be repaved, that shop might close, that house torn down. But now, they are here today, tomorrow, and next Thursday even. And no one cares.
There is much of the supposedly boring now out there that no one deigns to document. Maybe we should. Maybe I’ll just keep doing it. Right now.