Thursday, November 27, 2008
Channeling Edward Hopper while driving home on Thanksgiving Eve
I never take pictures like this, through windows and into the privacy of people's own homes. Even the idea made me feel a bit like a voyeur. But as I sat idling at the red light last evening something about this scene in the middle of the block to my left caught my eye, even though I couldn't really make it out very well, and I instinctively reached for my camera. I knew I'd regret it if I didn't, although I doubted I'd get anything worth keeping and figured I'd probably delete the image later.
What originally caught my eye was just the warmth of the scene in the window, surrounded by November darkness. The stillness of the couple. The "picture in the picture window." Only when reviewing my photos later did I realize some of the other things that I might have registered unconsciously: The fact that the couple's backs are turned against the outside. They're in their own world, looking in the same direction, but not at each other. They're together, but alone. They had been frozen in this position when I first saw them, and they never moved. They were isolated against a simple pattern of flat, colored planes with little detail. And the colors, warm and beckoning at first, were more complicated than they seemed -- the hint of a cold, fluorescent green eroded the warmth and made it unsettling.
Last year I wrote of the "dreamlike, incandescent glow of urban alienation set against the encroaching darkness" in a post about Edward Hopper. And now I almost seemed to be channeling Hopper.
It certainly was a strange experience, because so many things had to go right to get the photograph -- I was only going to get one shot, and there was no time to set up. Normally I have my point and shoot beside me when I drive. It would have been useless. But I had been shooting holiday lights with my DSLR, it was set to ISO 400 with -1.0 EV compensation, and the lens was the 55-200mm Nikkor with image stabilization. The handheld 1/2-second exposure at 200mm could have been terribly blurry, especially with the car idling, but it wasn't. Instead, the photo was just soft enough to look a bit less photographic. And finally -- the light didn't change until I had a chance to take the picture.
Now that I look at the image again, the white-haired man somewhat resembles the older Edward Hopper. And, from a distance, the woman standing beside him could even be a stand-in for his wife Jo, who was also a painter. No wonder I felt as if I were channeling Hopper.