Tuesday, April 28, 2015

pictures through the glass

It is hard to sum up a trip isn't it?  I just spent a good amount of time poring over my photos, and then the kids' photos, of our recent trip to Washington DC.  It's all a bit overwhelming, finding the story to tell about the trip.  The story of our family time that I want to, choose to share.  And the parts that I want to hold just for us.  I find myself comparing this trip to our trip to the same city exactly one year ago, and my thoughts then about how we were just beginning to enter the world of social media with Nicholas, and watching the city, our trip, as viewed through our children's eyes.

But what I am realizing, as I look through all of these photos, all of the conversations and quiet and chaos in the car on the drive south, traveling from damp clammy sucking mud up here through rain showers and emerging into warm sunshine, mostly, down there, all of the moments and activities we had together down there, is just how many photos we took.  At some point during the trip I noticed this.  Well, I know exactly when I noticed it.  We were in the car on the way south, and Julia said she wanted to learn how to take better pictures.  And we began to talk about this

Julia listened for awhile and thought for a while longer.  Oh, road trips are so very good, for all the being together and talking and thinking.  And then she reached for her camera, and started snapping away.

Julia's photo, New York City in the rain 
from the backseat of the minivan

 She used that camera relatively nonstop for the duration of the trip after that.  I even convinced her, as I have not been able to do before, thank you again for the captive audience of a minivan, to just snap away with her camera, not to edit, or delete entire visits, as has happened in the past, because she us unhappy with the results.

And as I did last year, more with Nicholas than with Julia that time, I enjoyed watching what she was noticing, what she was documenting, what she stopped and took note of.

I am not deleting Mommy.  Just looking.

I am not photographer, but I do enjoy taking pictures.  And she kept asking questions about how to get better pictures.  Looking at the pictures, I think I need to get her a better camera at some point.  And it was fun to try things together with her, such as experimenting with angles and cool shapes.

Julia's photo, the hallway in the pizza shop

My picture of Julia taking the above picture

 And my picture of the hallway

We talked about how sometimes you take pictures of something that is happening that is funny.

Julia's picture of the man changing the lightbulbs in the fancy lighting near the Mall.
He's got a very big job, she giggled.
 Or interesting.

Julia's picture in the Smithsonian's museum store.
It's a picture of Lincoln, made of pennies!

And sometimes you take pictures of things that make you think of things you love back at home, like your typewriter.  The one that always works, even when the power is out.  And never accidentally erases all of your work.  And has buttons that make sense.  Like this typewriter brush in the Sculpture Garden in front of the National Gallery of Art.

by Julia,  giant Typewriter Brush 

And that pictures can be not artistic at all, but a way of documenting information.

We talked about framing, I think you would call it. 

And how sometimes it is worth taking those steps toward what you are photographing.  And waiting either for unknown people to walk out of your shot.  Or for creatures to enter it.

It wasn't just her, or me.  It was all of us.

Nicholas' panorama

Jonathan creating this Instagram of Washington in bloom.

Snap happy we were.  And very pale.

All this talk about photography, and I began to worry that somehow, this picture taking was just another distraction in what can be an oh so distracted life.  That somehow, this was just another device in my daughter's hand.  That she was missing the true experience of being fully present, the glass lens between her and the place, between me and our children.

But then, there were moments, when I realized that the photography was getting us out in it.  That through the glass, we were having experiences that we would not otherwise have had.  And that the way each of us use the cameras are still reflective of who each of us are as people.

We happened upon a protest on the lawn in front of the capital.  We were taking our now traditional late evening drive around the city, as the light falls, the traffic is gone, and there are parking spaces everywhere around the Mall.  This is a hilarious time for us, the kids with wet hair from the hotel pool and in their pajamas, a bowl of ice cream in each of their laps and a camera in each of their hands.  We drive around.  Get lost.  Circle and drive and try again, while peeks at the Washington Monument keep us from getting too far away from where all the action is.

We pulled up in front of the Capital.  Rolled down the windows to snap the dome under construction.  And realized that there, below the illuminated dome, was a protest underway.  And a speaker was being amplified so we could hear him.  Which led to a very interesting conversation in our minivan about race and education and inequalities and the power of protest in our country.  All because of our pulling in closer for the shot.

I noticed our cameras come out as we entered the Butterfly Pavilion at the Museum of Natural History.   Images of us standing under the dome, hands free looking up and breathing, while gazillions of butterflies miraculously descended and landed on our eyelashes were honestly what I was imagining before we entered.  Instead, of course, the butterflies were more drawn to the feed and to the not stomping less dangerous plants than to the humans.  And the kids, and I as well,  snapped pictures of the butterflies, zooming in on their markings and coloring.

The first thing Elliott noticed was eyespots.  Look!  It's like we studied when I was in preschool!

 Julia's picture

We were in that hot little space a good long time.  Looking with our eyes through the glass of our lenses, but also looking around us.  And I realized, though our faces were often obstructed by glass, we were still making connecttions to things we have learned, and we were making connections to people, observing and noticing in our own ways.  Nicholas was drawn to the large and ugly with the tattered edges, telling stories of how they came to be damaged quietly under his breath.

And then he became very hot, and headed out grumpy and ready for lunch.  Elliott tried to get one to land on his finger.  And Julia walked around trying to snap the more colorful, and exclaimed each time a glimpse of blue flashed by.  I was quite amused by the intelligent butterflies, standing in line, waiting for their possible opportunity for escape near the door.

I looked around for Julia at one point and found her over near the back door to the enclosure.  She was sitting next to an older woman, a volunteer at the museum.  And she was smiling a small smile and talking quietly with the woman.  

The woman held out a paint brush while several brown rather drab looking butterflies flitted around her.  

And she was telling Julia why.  Sometimes they need a bit of texture to land on.  

Before long, she had a butterfly on the brush.  And she was telling Julia to wait.  

And when it happened, she smiled, Julia gasped, and the woman held the brush out for Julia to snap the blue.

Julia's picture

She was there to catch that momentary glimpse.  And thanks to Julia's sense of people, appreciating the quietest, she had found just who was the person to help her capture blue.

 My picture

The next day at the National Zoo, cameras were again at the ready, between our faces and the animals, those animals already behind the glass of their cages.  Another degree of separation.

We visited the panda area again, eager to see the small cub we had seen last year up high in a tree.  Surely the adult pandas and that cub now much bigger were too big to climb trees now.

I snapped the above pictures of that tiny branch supporting the enormous panda bum.  Elliott did a dramatic reciting of Chicken Cheeks due to its obvious relevance here.

And I looked over, and Julia was shooting this.

Put it all together, and that's a very good story, and documentation of the story.

The humans amongst us mugged for the camera at times, certain children enjoying photobombing at just the wrong moment or breaking into a funny expression.

Nicholas and his impression of a meerkat.

it was pretty good, right?

As we entered the Ape House, I saw him.  The giant male gorilla, over in a small shaded corner, off to the side, right where I had had a moment with a female gorilla last year.  He was over there, munching on something, but I could not quite see him.  

Julia's picture, his position before he noticed us noticing him

I leaned against a railing and craned my neck out and around a crowd of small children so I could see him better.  He munched, looked at me, and I swear, he reacted and copied my position.  

He then laid down on his side, stretching his enormous body out of the shady corner and posed for me, as if to say, how's this.  Is this better?  He looked at me out of the corner of his eye.  He was mugging too.

He sat still for a bit longer, and then was off.  A lady gorilla had entered the space, no glass between them.

I think he is posing for us!  Julia whispered to me.  I think he is putting on a little show.   See him grinning?

And there was this little guy.  Whose fuzzy little hands had us all captivated.  And Julia pointed out that he kind of looked like he was imitating us with our cameras and cell phones as he gazed at (and nibbled upon) the wood chip in his hands.

So maybe it was okay, all the picture taking, because it got us to stand still for a bit and really try to capture something, and see how movement, sound, and reactions to us as picture takers affected our experience of it.  And it opened conversation about all this between us, and gave us more moments of reflection and realization of how others perceive our behavior.  How our modern human behavior affects the other beings here on earth.

And it is certainly a perspective I have carried with me as we reenter home life this week.

me, watching Julia's lacrosse practice
from the minivan, in the rain

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