I live on a funny little street called University Way. It is conversationally called “The Ave.” In addition to being the road I must first cross before going anywhere else, this is where I eat yummy ethnic food (more than 42 different varieties I’m told), drink the best lattes I know of, and find awesome used books. The funky vibe has become a part of me. I can’t get anything done without the bustle of nerdy conversations around me and I have come to genuinely believe that flannel jackets and argyle socks are pretty much the coolest things ever. They are right?
But the Ave is also home to hardened faces, lungfuls of exhaust, near-death biker v.s. car encounters, intoxicated brawls, zombie students sealed off by their earbuds, and many others with nowhere to go and few who care. Visually it’s all rectilinear architecture and color can be scarce.
I love The Ave, but there’s also a point when too much character can be depressing. I miss fresh air, sunsets, quiet, growing things, wild places, and untamed topography. One of the side-effects that I’ve encountered living here is that my visual sensitivity feels dulled. If I had grown up in a city, I suspect that I may have learned to see much more in urban spaces. But I didn’t. I grew up on a mountain and northwest forests are where my vision is most attuned …and also where my capacity to see feels the most refreshed.
On a personal level, I’ve been asking myself whether it is possible to approach an urban environment with the same visual curiosity that a forest draws out of me so naturally. Can I come to grips with what simply isn’t there to see? Is it possible to challenge the limitations in my viewpoint that make the The Ave feel visually claustrophobic or inaccessible?
As a simple gesture to explore these questions, I took an afternoon to walk down The Ave and to look at it up close with my camera. I used my 50mm lens and a 13mm extension tube. The extension tube moves the lens away from the camera, which brings the focal plane closer–allowing the camera to focus on subjects almost close enough to be touching the lens. The side effect of this benefit is that anything more than about 5″ away becomes completely blurry. Most of the images I made span a distance of about 2-4 inches, and are about as far away from the camera.
More than enough said. Here are some pictures!
Beer bottle cap in alley.
Marlboro on steel drain cover.
Layers of paint on signpost. It is interesting to me how we literally paint physical layers over little histories like this. Continue reading »