Remember the Photographs You Never Made

julius motal the phoblographer remember

There was a man in his 40s sitting on a milk crate in front of a building somewhere in the city. Don’t ask me to remember the street name or the neighborhood. I couldn’t tell you, and ultimately it doesn’t matter. I was just walking by. He was holding an accordion on his lap, and he was working through some piece of some song. I’m not an accordion aficionado, and Weird Al loses his edge after a few songs. He seemed to have trouble working through a certain fingering when the young boy standing next to him leaned in and pressed a few of the keys.

That moment is probably the best photograph I never made, and I regret not making it. Of course, that’s the perennial problem of being a photographer. I won’t always have my camera on hand to capture every moment I see. My camera’s either tucked away in my bag or hanging at my side, and if it’s the latter, the moment’s gone by the time my finger’s ready to press the shutter.

The most wonderful thing about being a photographer is that I’m able to recognize beautiful moments when they happen, but the most terrible thing is that I’m not always able to record them.

Perhaps that is street photography’s Achilles’ heel. When I started taking my camera out on the street, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of photographs that could be made. They wouldn’t all be award-winners, but that doesn’t matter.  They were beautiful moments that were gone by the time I blinked. I’ve only made a very tiny fraction of the photographs I’ve seen.

Granted, I’ve only been practicing photography for about four and a half years now, which isn’t terribly long when juxtaposed with other, more experienced photographers, but it’s long enough to affect the way I see the world. Now, I see photographs everywhere.

A good photographer records; a great photographer reveals. That quote’s adapted from a conversation I had with Skyler Reid, a photographer friend of mine, and there’s truth in that statement. The best among us show us what we’ve never seen before. In another sense, the best among us help us recognize meaning. They stir emotions.

I try to not beat myself up over those moments I missed, and that’s a hard thing to do when they enter my thoughts every other day. Rather, I regard them as instructive moments. They serve as a framework for photographs I hope to make.

“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow?” –Imogen Cunningham

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