The ostensible reason for my jaunt to New York City last weekend was to see the Gates as well as to spend some time with my blog-buddies Leslee, Elck, and Dave. But when in New York, you do as New Yorkers do, and one of the city’s favorite pastimes is, of course, people watching.
After scoping the Gates from ground level, our band of merry bloggers headed to the top of the Met to view Central Park from above. Once we navigated the line to the admissions’ counter, the line to the elevator, and the line to roof’s edge where we could properly peruse Christo’s spectacle, I turned around and considered the throngs of people mingling on the rooftop. Cameras were clicking everywhere: some folks were photographing the Gates, others were photographing their friends and family, and an entire phalanx of photographers was taking pictures of themselves reflected against the New York City skyline. In New York City at least, reflective photography comes naturally: how else will people believe you were really there unless you capture your Thereness in pictures?
Although I’m usually hesitant about photographing strangers, I don’t have the same qualms about photographing people already posing for other cameras. Both photographers and their human subjects are easy targets in the sense that they stand still long enough for you to capture their image. So although I didn’t act quickly enough to capture an image of the woman with the barking tits, I did capture an image of a woman who moved beyond “tree hugging” into the realm of “tree humping.” In New York City, the constant barrage of fascinating people is so unrelenting, it’s easy to become mesmerized by the sheer volume of oddity. In the case of Ms. Barking Tits, I had my camera on and in my hand as she approached with her canine-laden bosom…but in the time it took me to say, “Hey, nice dogs,” she’d passed without me raising my camera.
Fortunately, other subjects were more cooperative. Since last Saturday was sunny, about half the population of New York City was out taking pictures, which means the other half was posing and hamming it up for the camera. In the city that never sleeps, cameras are ubiquitous and ever-on-the-lookout. Where else but in Central Park would you see a stylishly dressed woman taking an extreme close-up of her boyfriend’s seemingly indifferent chin?
While Christo and Jeanne-Claude provided a saffron backdrop, the city of New York (and a handful of blogging tourists) came out to observe and make art. I’ve already remarked how the teeming masses are an essential part of the spectacle that is the Gates: more than a work of environmental art, the Gates is a performance piece in which passersby become part of the ever-shifting canvas. When you add photographers to the mingling mix, the result is an endlessly self-referencial artwork in which photographers make art out of passersby who are themselves art. In the case of this dapper photographer (whom you might have already seen on the the Eye’s blog), art is purposefully self-referential: rather than hiding from the camera’s eye as do many photographers, this unabashed Artist and his Marvelous Moustache actively courted the camera’s gaze. Why shouldn’t an Artist be Art himself?
Although some bloggers (like the aforementioned Eye) are notoriously enigmatic, eshewing any personal attention their blogs might garner, publishing under a variety of pseudonyms, and hiding like an invisible shadow from the camera’s gaze, other bloggers are not so retiring. The ever-erudite Dave, for example, is positively rubber-faced when cameras are concerned, aping and mugging for photos like a professional clown. Now that Dave has a digicam of his own, it’s only a matter of time before he too succumbs to the temptation of narcissism, mugging and aping in front of mirrors, windows, or any such reflective surface. In this age of memoir, a writer’s life becomes her art…so why shouldn’t a blogger’s face be part of his art as well? Knowing now what Dave looks like–knowing now how he acts in restaurants when the cameras come out–are you more or less likely to read his blog? I for one find it refreshing to know there is indeed a face–and a funny one at that–behind Dave’s prolific and thought-provoking words. In a blogosphere that is divided between superficial snarkiness and ponderous pretension, it’s good to know that there are some serious and thoughtful bloggers who nevertheless can laugh at themselves.
By the end of the day, I finally succeeded in catching the Eye in the act. Yes, it’s true: the Eye doesn’t have one in the back of his head, so although he might not mug and ape for the camera, it’s easy enough to sneak up on him when he’s distracted with shutter-snapping of his own. His version of this image focuses on the word “Gate”: a reference to the artwork we’d gathered to appreciate. In my version, though, the Eye is himself part of the picture, captured perpetually in pixels if not in stone.
- While we’re on the subject of Dave’s attention-getting antics, be sure to click over to Via Negativa to wish a happy birthday to Mr. Funny Face.