Once it has grown to adult length, let’s say 15 feet, once it has grown to adult weight, let’s say 500 pounds, and once it has found prime riverfront property to call its home, life must be pretty good for a Nile Crocodile. No one will come around trying to collect rent, the views are excellent, and it gets to enjoy unlimited free tanning sessions. Oh, and food? It has to come to you, either to drink the river’s priceless water or to ford the shallow parts as part of its migration. In other words, a Nile Crocodile spends its life relaxing, watching the world go by, and sometimes ambushing it.
In other words, the Nile Crocodile acts like a photographer.
One of the things I’ve learned in studying the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, an artist I never understood until I tried to copy him, is that there is art in not seeking it. In my February post, “A Second-Rate (Third-Rate?) Homage to Henri Cartier-Bresson” I confessed that I couldn’t appreciate his greatness until after I tried to photograph as he did. One of the best lessons I learned was that you don’t have to go rushing around looking for pretty pictures. You can find the right spot, the right setting, and wait for the picture to come to you. I refer to masterpieces such as “Hyeres, France,” 1932, where C-B simply found a great staircase and then waiting for something interesting to happen. Or even better, “Behind Saint-Lazare Station, Paris, France,” 1932, where the viewer has to work a bit before realizing that Henri captured an almost impossible shot.
Which brings me to San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater and its plain, barren, Hyde Street side. The Market Street entrance is all glitzy, fancy, ornamental and all the rest of that stuff, but the Hyde Street side is almost completely blank, except for one roll-up automobile exit and something that might be a air-conditioning unit over head. Totally devoid of interest except when the sun is overhead at the right time and at the right angle. I discovered this during a trip to the Wednesday farmers market at the Civic Center, which is behind the Orpheum. The circumstances were right, so I (the “Nile Crocodile,” if you will) found a post across the street (the “river,” if you will) and waited for the world to go by. The “Wildebeest,” if you will. Traffic was a problem, and even when it wasn’t, the people on the other side of the street did not conveniently arrange themselves in artistic poses (C-B must have suffered much despair in the darkroom). But of the dozens of quick snapshots, a few managed to stand out, especially this one:
Still not at C-B’s level, but an above-average shot. I can’t avoid wondering how many thousands of masterworks Henri would have produced if he had worked in the digital age.
Vonn Scott Bair