Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I've been sitting poolside for, oh, I guess the better part of the last hour. I've been trying to get some serious photo editing work done, but I can't because the very friendly residents here keep wandering over to the strange guy with a laptop and a camera to ask what the heck he's doing. Inevitably, long, meandering conversations ensue.

The schedule-driven me would be a bit annoyed that I'm being taken off task. After all, my world typically revolves around time, along with my ability to get the most out of what little I've been granted. But a funny thing happens when you've deliberately pulled yourself out of that deliberate world for a bit. Time suddenly loses its edge. You lose the watch on your wrist. You're kind of aware of when you need to be back, but you refuse to let it take over your existence.

So instead of being annoyances, the conversations turn into neat opportunities to connect in similarly neat ways with utter strangers.

One gentleman stops swimming laps to ask me about my camera.  He used to haul around bags filled with Konicas and Bronicas and now rhapsodizes about the Sony point-and-shoot that he takes everywhere in his pocket. Water drips down his bathing cap and onto his smiling, wrinkled face as he talks about how liberating it's been for him to have a tiny photo studio in his hand. He often shoots hundreds of pictures in a single day, just like me, and  thanks his lucky stars that he no longer spends an arm and a leg to pay for film and processing. Also, just like me.

A friendly woman with dyed black hair wanders over to me while I'm shooting closeups of moisture-laden lounge chair webbing. She stands between me and the sun, casting a shadow directly into my shot, and begins chatting before I can even remove my eye from the viewfinder. She suggests I shoot a nearby palm tree, then enthusiastically agrees with my strategy when I tell her what I'm really up to. She rubs zinc into her face as she tells me how happy she is that she gets to see pictures of her grandkids online, all thanks to digital and a daughter-in-law who loves her camera, too.

Before long, they head into the pool and I return to my still-waiting laptop. The work will get done eventually. The moment I've just had will burn itself into my memory for decidedly longer.

Your turn: Connecting with strangers. Please discuss.

One more thing: Thematic Photographic returns with a new entry tonight at 7:00, so I hope you'll take time out from your new year festivities to ring out the old year with a photographic thought or two. In keeping with the season, our theme for next week will be "new".


Lifelong Learner said...

I find now that I'm back in the States and am able to use my English instead of Chinese (which is around a four year old level...Chinese, that is), I'm talking to just about anyone for just about any reason. Coffee creamers, Christmas lights, Legos.... usually in the grocery line, but I've met some interesting people. I love wondering what they are doing as they move on with their lives after our quick encounter.

D.O.M. Dan said...

A couple of days ago as I took the bus to work - an earlier bus than usual - the only other passenger that caught the bus from start of the line (as I had) had the gift of gab. Being a "talker" is something I lack until I get to know someone. In the 10 minutes or so that we were on the bus together, this friendly but talkative guy touched on various subjects. I was able to get a few words in edgewise, but I really only wanted to be polite. When we reached his stop he apologized for talking so much. I told him that's okay, you make up for those of us who don't. He reached out to shake my hand and say goodbye. I obliged and wished him well.

After he left I thought how harmless and friendly he seemed. I tried to balance that thought with how I was raised - and how I raise my children, to not talk to strangers. I had forgotten about encounter until I read your post.

Happy New Year, Carmi, and thanks for giving us such wonderful things to see, read, and discuss.

~j said...

I've always been the annoying lady in line who strikes up conversations with everyone. My mom taught me well. We've live by the motto that you never know where you'll find your newest best friend. Everyone has a story and it's fun to take the time to listen to it.

I'm loving your discovery of a slower paced world and the joy it brings.

amuse me said...

Strangers and watches -- both can be done away with. Strangers are future friends once the conversation starts, and watches are to be dispensed with as quickly as possible.

Connecting with people is one of the best parts of each day and it all can happen just by asking one simple question of them.

And, watches -- oh, I stopped wearing one four years ago when my time-driven dad passed away. What a freeing moment. There are always time pieces close at hand so it is easy to keep track of that. But how great it is not to be controlled by something on my wrist. I will never wear a watch again.

bobbie said...

I love connecting with strangers. It usually happens for me in a doctor's waiting room. Or of course it can be in line at a store or anywhere that waiting is necessary. So many people never crack a smile until you give them one of yours. Then they are pleasant - and some grateful. You can pass the time of day, and let it go at that, or if you're lucky you can make a new friend.

Mojo said...

In the great scheme of things, isn't connecting with "strangers" -- on a global scale -- what blogging is all about? Only (usually) without the awkwardness.

In a way, most of us don't actually connect with "strangers"... we see a possible connection with someone we don't yet know. Maybe they're reading a book we've heard about, or standing in line for the same movie or concert. Maybe they're getting a hot dog at the same cart. Maybe they're wearing our favorite hockey team's colors... But something has already connected us, otherwise I'm not so sure we take the chance.

Or maybe that's just me.

Nepharia said...

Sorry. My mom branded my brain with the "don't talk to strangers" when I was small that I rarely talk to strangers.

Every once in a while, when the situation dictates to speak to a stranger, I will. But I would never have gone up to you (even seeing your your laptop/camera setup) to strike up a conversation.

Hilary said...

I could feel what would ordinarily be your impatience with the woman who intercepted your shot with her shadow melt into warmth and recognition of a different moment in time. One which connects you to the person, not the subject. Both of these people needed you to take that time for them to be heard and recognized. Our beloved cameras are far less important than that. Lovely post.