This is a picture I didn't take (not for lack of trying, but because I had left my go-to camera, the iPhone, home in the charger): Visualize a big black Lexus SUV parked next to an off-white sofa and matching lounge chair, which had been set out at the curb, the chair piled up on top of the sofa for easy pickup by the city's large-item trash truck.
A middle aged couple with what might be their adult daughter, all impeccably dressed in upscale leisurewear, are carefully assessing the chair. They open the tailgate and measure with their hands whether the big chair would fit. It seems to. Then they turn the chair up, remove the cushion and methodically inspect every nook and cranny of the chair for flaws or stains. They are about to load it into the SUV when they discover the dark stain on the armrest I could see all along. That's a deal-breaker. They close the tailgate and drive off.
In a student town like Madison, trash picking is an art form, but these were unusual practitioners. I wondered, has it come to this for the American upper middle class? Or were they just looking for something for the cottage?
As I sat watching, camera-less, from my car, I was reminded of photographer Michael David Murphy's wonderful blog, Unphotographable -- all the posts are beautifully written short vignettes describing photographs he did not take, for one reason or another -- "Unphotographable is a catalog of exceptional mistakes. Photos never taken that weren't meant to be forgotten. Opportunities missed. Simple failures. Occasions when I wished I'd taken the picture, or not forgotten the camera, or had been brave enough to click the shutter."
If you've never visited his blog, check it out. The verbal "pictures" are vivid and touching: Unphotographable.com.