I step up to the counter and am greeted most enthusiastically by a petit woman of about 30. “What’ll you have?” she asks cheerfully.
“Cup of coffee,” I mutter.
“You need room for cream?” she chirps.
I feign a little smile to express appreciation for her having recognized my awesome nature.
In truth, I’m so frequently awesome that it becomes a struggle to politely acknowledge all who commend me. Case in point — a mere 30 minutes earlier, my awesomeness was spotted at the corner grocery. The cashier, upon ringing up my total, glanced up from her till and stated, “that’ll be $4.05.”
I reached into my wallet, peeled off a five dollar bill and handed it over.
“Do you have a nickel?” she asked.
I plunged a hand into a pocket, fished around and extracted a beaver-crested 5¢ Canadian coin and dropped it into her outstretched hand.
Her affirmation of my formidableness was expressed so boisterously that every customer in my vicinity gazed upon me in admiration.
Such awesomeness is both frequent and boundless. If an acquaintance queries me about my weekend plans, it matters not what I answer. Even if I answer “I have no plans,” their response is inevitably a heartily delivered “awesome!” When I call and make a dinner reservation, it’s a rare host or hostess that isn’t moved to mention such awesomeness. When a tourist needs help finding Robson Street, and I point and say “two blocks that way,” I am not just thanked — I am praised as “awesome.”
Awesome as I apparently am at most everything, there is one endeavour at which I’ve failed to be awesome: photography. Mind you — I have experienced some tangential photographic awesomeness. For example, many of my cameras have been praised for being awesome — and the older a camera is, the more frequently total strangers stop me on the street to tell me so. Occasionally, one of these strangers will ask me why I’m shooting film. I’ll say something like, “I like the way it looks.” This, too, is often praised for its awesomeness.
But here’s the thing: It’s not enough that I have awesome cameras, nor is it sufficient that my choice of photographic media is also awesome. What I really and truly want is to take at least one awesome photograph before I die.
I know it’s possible to take awesome photos, because I’ve seen them. Hundreds of them taken by the likes of Tomatsu, Takanashi, Nakahira, Moriyama, Hosoe, Domon, Araki — and that’s just in Japan!
It’s a cruel twist of fate that my ability to produce exact change on demand is deemed “awesome,” yet I’ve never once had a photograph praised for its awesomeness.
There are a few possible explanations for this. One, of course, is that I suck as a photographer. Another is that there’s a possible disconnect between my definition of “awesome” and its modern, colloquial usage.
In hopes of learning the truth, I did a Google image search on “awesome photography.” No disrespect to any photographer whose work appeared, but I didn’t see a single photo that I would have wanted to take myself. To me, every one of the resulting photos combined technical competence with an over-reliance on software filters to produce the sort of trendy commercial look that’s been so universally popular and emulated for the past decade. That’s fine if that’s your thing. But is it awesome?
Maybe I’m a born cynic, or maybe it’s my generation, but I believe awesome should inspire awe — and to do so, it should be something that blows your mind and shatters your preconceptions. Delivering something that fits within the narrow constraints of preconception is not my idea of awesome.
So what does this tell me? It tells me that both possible explanations for my lack of awesomeness are valid. While the disconnect between my definition of awesome and the rest of the world’s would explain why no one thinks my photographs are awesome, it still doesn’t mask the fact I have yet to take a photo that fits my own definition of “awesome.”
Then again, maybe it’s simply impossible to actually awe oneself. I think someone would need to be either extraordinarily self-aware or extraordinarily narcissistic in order to blow their own mind.
And so I soldier on — searching for the elusive awesome photo while collecting my awesome merit badges for drinking black coffee and pointing to local tourist destinations. But it makes me wonder — if the mediocre and mundane are now classified as “awesome,” is the truly awesome still possible? After all, if someone creates something worthy of inspiring awe, yet no one is actually awed by it, then by definition it isn’t awesome. It’s a depressing thought — and yet I’m oddly comforted by the idea that, perhaps, this is the plane on which my own photography exists. That would be pretty awesome.
©2015 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS: Photos contained within this article are, in no way, meant as potential “awesome photography” candidates. They are, however, somewhat tangentially related to the topic at hand. The final photograph, “Antigravity Boots” depicts what I consider to be a truly awesome event — any man who can sleep standing up deserves my utmost awe. Particularly since I can’t even sleep sitting up, much less facing up while supine in bed. This photo, by the way, was shot with a Type 246 Leica M Monochrom, fronted with a 21mm f/3.4 Super-Elmar-M lens.
Also rather obviously related to the topic is the opening photo, “Prelude to 18 Potentially Awesome Instagram Photos,” which was shot with a Widelux F7 using Tri-X film, which I exposed at ISO 200 and developed in a 1:50 solution of Blazinal.
Filling in the middle is a shot of an obviously awed child in “Envy,” which I shot with a Type 246 Leica M Monochrom using an unknown lens (though its appearance, and the appearance of other photos shot that day, would suggest some kind of 50mm lens). “Memento” was also shot with the Type 246 Leica M Monochrom, only this time I know which lens I used — Leica’s 28mm f/2 Summicron.
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