Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas at Ben's Tune Up


It’s one of those joyous times when families come together to affirm their love and connection to one another. In theory.

“This is the best way to spend Christmas.” The stranger said to me as we warmed our hands around Ben’s Tuneup’s outdoor fire pit on a chilly Christmas night. “Way better than family.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-family. In fact, I love my family, and I miss them dearly. But they are on the other side of the country. I’ll be seeing them in February and we will love and connect to each other then. This Christmas, I sat with a motley crew of orphans, enjoying cheer and camaraderie. I provided the camera part.

The stranger and his friend looked like hard working men. Travelers for a living. Some might say they call a truck, home. Some past of which I know not put them in Asheville on Christmas night, gathering around the fire pit. Celebrating the holiday with beers, cigarettes and a gathering of orphaned Ashevillians.

“It’s as if we are two ships passing in the night,” I managed the cliche although I wasn’t really in a talking mood. 

“Exactly!” the man agreed.

It made me think about my travel experiences, and I remembered the joy of connecting with strangers while traveling. It’s something that happens on the road and not so much when you are stationed somewhere. I want to feel that feeling again. I want to travel again, and meet people, and find their stories and document them. The man was feeling it and it made my feelings intensify. 

That long lonesome longing for existential meaning that doesn’t come from any kind of stable anything.

I was in stealth photographer mode that night. Enjoying the smallness of my new mirrorless camera. Figuring out the settings, and enjoying the light feeling of it. Taking candid pictures while pretending I was not shooting people, but only all the pretty lights. (Taking pictures of the pretty lights too.)

There are a few of ways of approaching shooting people this way. In one, they all know they are being photographed and they pose and fake a plastic smile. That’s what you usually see on Facebook, right? Then there is the candid, where you capture people doing what they do and kind of hope they don’t notice. That kind of photography is something I love, and when I tell you why you will know the dark side of me. 

It feels bad to me. There is a kind of rush inside, like I’m doing something bad. Bad like smoking a cigarette, or stealing candy as a kid. (Yeah, got caught shoplifting as a kid too, and that cured me of the stealing thing.)

I mean, I do this photography stuff for a living, but when I’m being paid to spy on people, they are well aware of it and I have artistic license to spy on them all day long. But then there is this other thing, which many people find annoying. I’ve learned that people don’t really like having the camera aimed at them. And yet I do it anyway. I can’t help myself, it actually gives me a thrill. 

Some of the best photography in the world was taken this way. Often with a 300mm lens from the other side of the street. At least me and my camera are smack in the center of things and more than a little noticeable. My subjects are well aware of what I’m doing. I’m only pretending that they don’t see me.

Like the cat who hides in the box with his claws hanging out…

I would love to know what stories these pictures tell in your mind. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Hoping you and yours are having a wonderful holiday season full of joy and connection.

Catherine Vibert
Photographer. Storyteller.

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