Sunday, November 9, 2008

Rittenhouse Square

I was visiting Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia... my first visit... on a Saturday evening at dusk. A fall day, warm weather. The park was full of activity, beautiful with the orange leaves on the ground. A wedding party, at least the male portion of a wedding party, was assembled towards the center of the park, listening to guitar music. I worked my way through taking pictures and found a bench at the end of a path and sat there to observe the crowd.

No sooner than I was in position, a homeless-appearing man came into sight. He croaked, "Like to take pictures?" I nodded. "Like to take pictures of people?". I again nodded. He approached and plopped himself down next to me. One of his eyes was white, and he appeared blind in that eye. His teeth were loose and facing multiple directions. He extended his hand and I warily shook it. He was not threatening and talkative.

He started talking about the deterioration of Philadelphia and that white people didn't like to talk to him, "not you" of course he noted. He said he went to a free Bruce Springsteen concert and there was only himself and one other black person in attendance. I found this curious as I later found out the concert was for the benefit of Barack Obama. I mentioned that Bruce Springsteen had a song called "Philadelphia". "Ben" (his name) corrected me and said that was Elton John. I noted that Elton John had a Philadelphia song but it was called "Philadelphia Freedom". He agreed, and said that he had been shocked to learn that Elton John was gay. We then spoke about Michael Jackson and his woes. He rocked back and forth with enthusiasm as he spoke about each subject.

I wanted to take a picture to capture the character of this man. He readily agreed to pose, this was his purpose all along. It was dark so I needed to be steady. I took a first shot, and looked in the viewer, but didn't think it looked like him. The personality was missing. I asked for another, he posed again. Again, it didn't look right. I took a final shot, again it wasn't what I was looking for but decided to move on. He seemed pleased with the few dollars I left him. That was what he was after, afterall.

When I got a chance to transfer the picture to the computer, where I could look at it. I noticed that the flaws in his features that gave him personality (primarily his teeth and the blind eye) were missing in the shot. His pose each time was with eyes shut and mouth closed. Despite the inherent wildness of his personality, Ben was self-conscious enough of his appearance, that he wanted to look his best.

I thought about it, and realized this was the best evidence of his self. The picture had captured his character, even if it wasn't evident.

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