Bonding Through Contrast

The following is an article I submitted a few months ago and has now been published in the November 2023 issue of Street Photography Magazine. The call was for the creation of a new section of the magazine titled “The Story Behind the Photo” and I am very pleased to see that the thoughts and feelings I get from this picture resonate with others. I hope that you’ll find something of value in these words, but most importantly, that this photograph makes you stop and think for a moment and, perhaps, even come up with your own story about it.

Note: if you know anything about me, you know that I always have some caveat to bring about, so you’ll find a little addendum at the end. Now, without further ado, here’s the story behind this photo:

When I walk the streets I see patterns: little pieces of what it means to be human, plastered all over  the walls, on the sidewalks, on the hanging signs, on people’s clothes, their body language, their behaviour; endless repetitions of what we all have in common, of what makes us all the same while  each of us attempts to be the protagonist of our own movie, we strive to be our own unique character, surrounded by extras, aloof and adrift, buying into the idea that there’s no-one else alike. But are we really that different from each other? 

Just as in photography the juxtaposition of bright and dark areas creates the contrast that helps us make sense of what’s in the frame, it is by virtue of our disparities that we get to see both sides and appreciate what we have in common, and even though this is not the only way of making this  association, contrast is an elegant and somehow poetic way of bonding: sometimes it works as a bridge that reaches across two opposite edges and sometimes it works as a mirror that couples who we see with who we are.  

Part of the beauty of contrast is that it doesn’t have to be obviously divergent, as it can also be  found more subtly through the common elements, within the pattern itself, allowing one of those little pieces that makes us human to break the fourth wall and speak to us on the other side of the mirror, telling us that it is possible to cross the river of cultural differences and moral conjectures if only we could focus on what we see instead of assuming what is not there.  

Sometimes all we need is something as simple as the color pink, resting upon the heads of two  women, one younger and one older, one less moderate and one more discreet, one showing more than the other: the obvious appearances can only take us so far, but despite the ample room for speculations, we cannot truly confirm any by just looking at them.  

The acknowledgement of our differences doesn’t have to be detrimental, insofar as we use it as a  first step towards common ground. We could make an educated guess as to how these two women differ from one another and never know for sure if we’re right. One might be a tourist and the other one a local, one could be a mother and the other one have a twin sister, and they would probably question each other’s fashion choice or maybe they could even envy it and wish they did the same. The possibilities are endless. On the other hand, being aware of this provides us with the certainty we need in order to highlight what they do have in common: they both like to wear pink on their heads. Isn’t that enough? Why linger on the shadows?

Figuring out what makes us different can drag us down an endless list of reasons to judge each  other, but it only takes noticing one little thing in common to extend a connection, just like the arm of one of the women cuts through the dividing line drawn by the pole, as a symbolic gesture that only you and I can possibly understand. They will probably never find out about any of these metaphors. They kept going their way after the light turned green and that was the end of it. The moment lasted just a few seconds and yet here we are, reading between the lines and trying to get some meaning out of it and maybe even trying to attribute meaning to it. Why not? Isn’t that what life is about, finding meaning? 

They say most pictures are worth a thousand words, some say the good ones tell a thousand stories, but what about the special ones? I say those are the ones that ask a thousand questions. This is my philosophy, at least the one that works for me when it comes to photography. I have reverse engineered my approach, and instead of outlining how my images should look like, I let them talk to me, ask me the questions that must be answered and give myself permission to let go of those distractions that stand in the way between what’s there and what I see. 

I followed these two women down the street trying to get the ideal shot but I had to settle for a less than ideal framing and a heavy crop because the ideal shot sometimes just doesn’t happen and you  must work with what you’ve got. Sometimes these little accidents are what make a special photo. That’s the beauty of street photography: it’s unstaged and serendipitous. This might not be the only story of this photo but it’s the story of what I felt then and what I see now. So, what do you see?

Here’s the little appendix I mentioned at the beginning: 

To be honest, I started with a short PS about the context in which I wrote this piece and it escalated pretty quickly into a dozen more themes that deserve their own full length exploration, so I will have to ask you to stay tuned for those. They should be fun to write and interesting to read.

Meanwhile, make sure that you check out Street Photography Magazine and read the other featured photographers. Actually, you should browse through the whole thing. It is one of the very few places where you can find dedicated content to street photography in a meaningful manner, away from all the quick tapping and scrolling of social media. Treat yourself a little and slow down, open this on a bigger screen than your phone, and take a moment to appreciate good content.

Talking about appreciation, I’m posting this on Thanksgiving. Yes, it is an American holiday and I’m a Colombian living in Hungary, so why is this date relevant at all?

Well, for one, we should live a grateful life and ideally, we shouldn’t need a holiday to express our gratitude, but isn’t it nice that at least we have one? I don’t care where it comes from, if there is a special day every year to say “thank you”, I’ll take it!

Secondly, the folks at SPM are American, so what better time than Thanksgiving to thank them for deciding to include my work in their publication. It means a lot to someone like me, an almost anonymous photographer/writer with so much work to share, so many things to deconstruct and of course, so much to learn and grow upon. 

And just like myself, there are countless artists, writers, thinkers, photographers out there who have almost no audience and who waste their most productive years focusing on the wrong things, deviating from their honest work, just to build a social media following and maybe, if they play the algorithm game the right way, they will go viral for a few days only to get spat back into the meat grinder that is the media market. But if they are (very) lucky, they will stick around. Maybe.

Deciding to live as an artist is a big gamble, and people like Bob Patterson and Ashley Riffo at SPM bet on us and lend a speaker to those who might otherwise remain unheard. So yeah, I’d like to give thanks to them.

And whoever you are, if you managed to read this far, thank you as well. You’re cool. 

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