Fireworks? I’ll admit to enjoying them immensely. But photos of fireworks? On the ULTRAsomething Tedium Scale (U.T.S.), I’d rank them roughly on par with “photos of derelict farm implements” and “generic Hollywood romantic comedies.” I’d prefer to tender a more precise U.T.S. ranking, but viewing any of these genres for more than several seconds induces a narcoleptic effect that renders me incapable of detailed analysis.
Consequently, when Vancouver hosts its annual international fireworks competition for three nights each summer, it affords me the rare opportunity to leave the apartment without a camera. Not only does the subject fail to inspire me photographically, but the pitch black shores of English Bay aren’t exactly conducive to a light-based medium.
Yet once every three years, as if possessed by some inner-biological masochism clock, I’ll inexplicably grab a camera on the way out the door. In spite of any hearsay from friends and loved ones, I think I’ve gotten a tiny bit smarter since I last exercised the futility muscle back in 2009. For example, instead of waiting for total darkness, this year I arrived on the beach at dusk. That way, should something attract my attention, I could set my M9 to 1/90s at maximum ISO, open the Voigtlander 50mm Nokton to its full f/1.1 aperture, and still possibly grab something resembling an image. Granted, adjectives like “sharp” and “noiseless” wouldn’t apply to any such photos, but then these adjectives rarely apply to any of my photos — even those shot in the midday sun. If I haven’t let this fact bother me yet, why start now?
Amongst the half-million people attending this event, I would guess that 50,000 of them had cameras mounted to tripods — all aimed skyward in anticipation of the impending spectacle. I assume the remaining 90% had attempted this same exercise in some previous year — only to realize the true meaning of the adage, “seen one, seen ’em all” upon subsequently viewing the night’s photos.
Me? I wandered the beach, enjoying the beautiful Vancouver landscape and the cooling ocean breeze. Once or twice, I even snapped a photo of something I could barely see. When the fireworks began, the camera dropped to my side. Meanwhile, all the other photographers leapt to their feet, peering into their LCDs — each firing off a barrage of shots; each quickly realizing their automatic in-camera meters were grossly overexposing the scene; each frantically trying to troubleshoot the situation while reading their camera manuals by the light of an iPhone. Much like the fireworks themselves, this too is an annual scene I enjoy immensely — witnessing this rookie photographer rite of passage, and knowing that the lessons learned here will help so many to move beyond their camera’s auto settings.
Ten minutes after the grand finale, I was wedged into an overcrowded elevator, rising skyward toward my apartment within one of Vancouver’s ubiquitous high-rises. In the constricted confines, I held my arms against my chest, clutching the Leica just beneath my chin. A woman, pressed so tightly against me that we exceeded every recognized definition of “second base,” broke the awkward silence with a nod toward my camera. “Did you get any good shots of the fireworks?”
“Actually,” I responded, “I didn’t take any pictures of the fireworks.”
A look of horror crossed her face, morphing quickly into confusion, and then to amusement. “Oh,” she said with a smile, “you’re kidding.”
“No,” I replied earnestly, “I never take photos of fireworks.”
Her smile faded and her brow furrowed. “Then what did you photograph?” she asked.
I thought for a second. I suppose I could tell her I took a photo of some people waiting in line for the toilets…
Or that I might have a nice shot of a gentleman face-plowed onto the beach prior to the start of the fireworks…
Or — as shown in the photo at the top of this article — that I lazily took a couple of hackneyed silhouette shots of some kids atop a public sculpture…
… but I didn’t.
45 seconds spent pressed together in a congested elevator may well nurture a kind of physical intimacy, but emotional and intellectual intimacy require substantially more time to progress. To reveal these answers to her would only prompt more questions — questions with conceptual answers like, “I prefer to photograph those things that no one else bothers to photograph,” which is, itself, an answer demanding more questions. The time constraints dictated by a mere 30-story elevator shaft were insurmountable. Perhaps if we lived in the Burj Khalifa…
So, instead, I simply answered, “people.”
“Yeah. I like taking pictures of my friends too,” she responded.
Just then the doors slid open and she exited the elevator, waving goodbye. “Perfect timing,” I thought to myself, “otherwise I would have felt obligated to mention that I don’t actually know any of the people I photograph.” As the years wear on, I find that taking photos isn’t nearly as difficult as having to explain why I take them.
Several floors later, I was back in my apartment — downloading the evening’s photos, fighting off an inexplicable craving for a cigarette, and relishing in the realization that it would be at least three years before I felt compelled to drag my camera to another fireworks display. Something I’m sure you, my readers, are relishing too.
©2012 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THESE PHOTOS: “Roundtable”, “Main Attraction” and “Beached” were all shot with a Leica M9 and a Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 Nokton in near total darkness. Should you wish to see photos of the actual fireworks, might I suggest Flickr? It’ll likely contain several thousand for your perusal…
If you find these photos enjoyable or the articles beneficial, please consider making a DONATION to this site’s continuing evolution. As you’ve likely realized, ULTRAsomething is not an aggregator site — serious time and effort go into developing the original content contained within these virtual walls.