Facing the Cold

As a photographer, you don’t always get to choose your moments, or your subjects. Things happen, and you just shoot, on instinct.

My problem as a heavy thinker is that not only do things just happen, but I start thinking about them as soon as they do, and by the time I am through thinking, I miss the shot.

Or, as in my most recent case, I think it is a good idea to leave all of my camera gear in Alabama to avoid traveling with it on a plane, and then a beautiful snowstorm hits Maryland and all I have is an iPhone.

Walking home from a local sushi place this afternoon (the only place open within walking distance and there is NO way the wine or the ice will let me drive), I got into that old deep-thinking routine again.

I started thinking about all of those people I have seen in my life, and turned my head, when I saw them cold, hungry, and probably homeless. Just faces. Faces in the cold.

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I am not ready to make a political statement about their plight. Other than to say I came from humble origins, stealing candy bars as a pre-teen to survive, and I understand desperation. I simply mean to acknowledge their existence, and want to discuss them in terms of a photograph.

I do not have photos of any of them here, intentionally. I want the reader, instead, to try to remember the face of the last one they met. The last one they saw, or spoke to. Just a nameless face in the cold.

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Too often we look the other way when we see something we wish we didn’t see. That is nature. Just as I turn away when there is something gruesome happening on the television. I just can’t look.

But just because you can’t look doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Sometimes, you should look on the frightening, or the ugly, not to change it, but to learn from it. To learn what makes it, and to teach others to avoid those things.

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Photography is our chance to record, for generations to follow, the things we see in our lives. It is a tool to record history, and to present a record of events to those who care. When we train our lens on the unsightly and the depressing, we plant a seed of inspiration in a viewer somewhere down the line.

So, what did he look like? The last cold and lonesome face you saw? Was he smiling? Did he grimace in the wind? Was he deep in thought and holding no expression?

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I do not pretend to know the answer to these faces in the cold. I like to think that their plight is not a matter of economic or social injustice, rather it is a matter of missed opportunities, but I can’t be sure. That is for the politicians and the sociologists and the folks who like to debate such things.

To me, they are more important than a point of argument. They are a face in the cold. A beautiful subject, and an important topic, if you can understand the distinction.

Do not fear them. Embrace them. Capture them, and remember them.

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All images in this post captured on iPhone 5 and edited in Adobe Photoshop CS6. Mostly natural lighting with on-device flash here and there. No color correction in post editing. No human faces were harmed in this shoot, although one was nearly frozen off, and now his neighbors are certain he has lost his mind. 

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