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no answer (the melon seller)

A shiny black van pulls up, wheels skidding on gravel. Five, maybe six men step out all at once. They wear black t-shirts and army fatigues. Their heads are shaved, slick with sweat in the afternoon sun. Their arms are huge, squeezed into those shirts a few sizes too small. All at once they circle a fruit stand by the road. It is made of plywood, held together with a few screws. One good sneeze could level it. Rows of torpedo shaped melons sit on bulging shelves, below them a cage full of watermelons. The men yank smartphones from their pockets, taking pictures, making calls. I assume they are some covert team that extorts vendors, either sending them home and destroying the fruit or worse. I somehow expect the man does not have a permit and the right papers to sell anything. In Russia, you need permission to do just about anything. There are no five year olds with lemonade stands here. 
I cross the street, distancing myself as I glimpse the men between the cars and trolley buses tha…

the planned shot (a free ride)


There is a plan. I leave early, getting off the trolley bus as it lurches along the river. The water is brown, brackish not reflecting the blue sky. A white arc paints across the clouds, the leftover from some small plane. The cemetery sits across the water behind a line of trees. It was one of the first places I visited here, almost twelve years ago when I was just a tourist. Eisenstein is buried there. I have not visited it since then.

The party boats eventually make their way, music pumping but no one dancing on them. Flags are flapping hard and stiff in the wind. I wait, and check focus and then shoot two frames, foreground and background maybe adding up to something thoughtful or maybe something too obvious. I just can't tell right now. I know those gold onion-shaped domes in the distance are what everyone thinks of when they imagine Moscow, and these specific ones do mean something to me.

A man is fishing nearby, and I wander over to stand behind him. His pole drapes over the water. It smells foul here, like dead animals and kerosene. He adjusts the brim of his cap, stares out at the water. I cannot resist taking pictures of fishermen, a great metaphor for street photography but maybe that is clunky and obvious. My father is a fisherman, as was his father. The reason is always personal too.

The boats chug by, and I shoot a few more of them convinced this layered composition is good for the end of the book. Then I go to pick up E.

Her camera swings from her neck, loaded with black and white film.

At the bus stop, we wait. I see a line of soldiers all with giant duffel bags on their shoulders. There are three grey buses, sitting open and empty. I nudge E. Take it, take the shot I tell her. My camera is empty and I reload.
A stray dog rests in a patch of sunlight and E tiptoes around it.
"Can I really take it?" She asks.
I nod yes, poking my chin out.
She shoots two, maybe three frames and retreats.
I think she is starting to understand, this is a little bit like robbing a bank. This stepping from the shadows trying to remain invisible and then back again. Does the fisherman respect the fish? I like to think yes, but they can catch them and throw them back. What we are up to is far more messy, more grey.

The young soldiers file in, and I try to take a few as a police car cruises past us, as women with flowers in their hands step past, as a minivan wobbles around potholes. They are all almost inside before I get anything reasonable.

Our bus slumps to the curb and we wander in. That stray dog is somehow behind us, finding an empty spot on the floor with his mouth pressed against his paws. I like the idea of him getting a free ride somewhere.





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