I’ve been to Venice twice before and never with S, so on Saturday we headed down to the beach and walked around in the sunshine. Then Sunday morning we went to breakfast in Santa Monica and the restaurant’s walls were filled with photographs of Venice in the 1920s, people in full suits and matronly dresses walking demurely down the boardwalk.
“93 years ago,” S said. He ate a steak and avocado sandwich; I had eggs florentine. “Nobody in that picture is even alive anymore.”
“The kids, maybe,” I said. There were only two of them that I could see. Their backs were to the camera. The picture was fuzzy, black and white, and showed half the boardwalk and half the beach. It was taken from up high, looking down.
“Maybe not even them,” S said.
It’s weird, I guess—those kinds of old photographs. They offer one tiny glimpse but nothing more. There’s no story behind them, there’s no sense of humanity. Just a strip of beach and a few dozen overdressed men and women rushing by like little blurs. The photo was uncredited. We kept taking turns looking at it.
With digital photography, of course, the entire game has changed. In the 1920s, a camera meant you were a photographer. They weren’t cheap to buy and they weren’t cheap to operate and it wasn’t cheap to develop the film, which you had to do yourself. Now, anyone can have a camera and basically everyone does. Back then, an exposure was precious. You had to really want it. It had to mean something. Now, it’s easy to point and click and delete.
I’ve only ever taken photographs to document. I’ve only ever taken photographs because I like taking photographs. I’ve never wanted to be a professional; I’ve always just chased the satisfaction of getting a really excellent exposure. Of capturing someone’s secret smile. Of freezing a memory forever.
Photographers now are just a dime a dozen. Some stand out from the crowd and some won’t ever leave the digital pages of a blog. But honestly, that’s fine with me. That’s all it’s ever been about.
photographs taken with a Canon 60D in Venice, California.