One moment

Photograph through the glass of a bus shelter, Dundee 4th October, 2019

I took a photograph on my phone: it was on a very rainy morning, and the scene is composed of blurred cars and blurred reflections of yellow-white headlamps on wet tarmac. The shot was taken through the glass front of a bus shelter. Near the right side of the photograph, there’s a dark smudge that might be a person walking. In fact, it was a person; and other dark shapes could be boats in a dock or buildings. They were buildings but they appear in the photograph as ship-like forms, so maybe that’s what they are now. Below a grey sky, looking like drenched cardboard, much of the blurry scene has a greenish tinge. Thin scratch marks on the glass pane provide a sense that there is something separating viewer from scene. If the scratches were not in the photograph, and the rivulets of rain on the glass were more blurred, it would look entirely like a painting: one where the blurring was a deliberately created effect.

Writing this description of a photograph, I am reminded how much there is to see in it – and, like the marks on the bus shelter glass, I’ve only scratched the surface. (How useful cliches can be! How difficult to always exclude them.) I could have written much more about what is in the photograph; but – the more words I write, the further I seem to move away from something fundamental about the scene: it represents just one view of a tiny moment in time. Our eyes and minds process a great deal of information about what we are looking at: colours, shapes, movements – of rain and cars and light. Yet, this large and instant supply of information is itself only a small part of what is happening in any moment. There’s masses of other ‘stuff’ going on – sounds, smells, and memories and associations sparked off in our minds. And, if I had crouched down to take the photograph, or stood on my head, or stood outside in the lashing rain, I would have captured something different about the same moment.

These ideas strike me strongly, looking at the photograph and thinking back to the scene that morning, which was a very cold morning. A photograph can miss out as much, or much more, than it shows. So too can some of our descriptions in words: of scenes, and people, rain, and bus shelters in the early morning.

A lot of the time, life may not seem like it is full of much to see and appreciate. That morning, I saw many people looking miserable in the cold and I felt very sorry for some who had only a small jacket and no hood or umbrella to protect them from the rain. They did not look as if they were noticing anything except a horribly wet and cold experience they were hurrying to escape. Sometimes, it can be natural to not want to notice things.

Later, the same day, it was sunny and I had time to walk through Balgay Park and make other photographs. Some people were taking wagging-tail dogs for a walk, and I noticed children hunting for conkers and chattering excitedly with parents and grandparents. Leaves on trees were beginning to change from greens to browns and yellows. The air was fresh, and I felt happy to be walking and watching and taking photographs on the move, so lots and lots of moments were jostling for my attention. Like a litter of demanding kittens.

A few lone individuals occasionally wandered past me in silence, in some invisible rain only they could see and feel.

Photographs and words can help us to notice what we can see with our eyes but may not always be aware of, and – sometimes – in an image, or in a piece of writing, we can begin to see things which are, at first, invisible. Things we might otherwise never notice. Like those few silent, lost souls. I cannot remember if I properly noticed them in the beauty of the park, or if I noticed them only later through words. Words – reminding me of something that was there but, for me, perhaps temporarily invisible.

A more common problem I have is: noticing so many things that I struggle to think about any one thing without immediately thinking of something else. Perhaps, a reason for my habit of freezing moments in time, in photographs and in pieces of writing, is to try to slow down the fast flow of life and learn how to notice more fully those moments which hold interest or wonder for me. Taking photographs and writing both help me to hold on to ideas about the world around me. At least, for long enough to notice some of the magic which is all around us.

The magic and wonder of life has always been very real for me. Moments lived and moments stored somewhere inside. Balgay Park is also where I walked with my mum and dad when I was just starting primary school. Back then, I longed to have a bike. I watched in a state of absolute awe and wonder as gleaming bicycles zoomed past me on the wide paths and I would imagine myself sailing along. I could almost feel my feet on pedals, my hands on taped handlebars, and all the trees a blur as I moved by them so quickly. And, when I eventually was given a shiny new racer as a present, cycling was every bit as magic as I imagined it would be.

Feeling as physically alive as I could be was my first taste of wonder, and it has never left me. It took me down a lot of different paths: cycling, lifting weights, boxing, running. As I grew older, I slowed down as everyone does but that kind of wonder remains and sometimes – I wake in the middle of the night and hear traffic in the ditstance and feel a breeze coming through the window and stretch like I am a cat, relishing the feeling of simply being alive. I don’t actually purr. Well, I hope I don’t.

The wonder I feel at seeing things which I want to write about or take a photograph of began when I was a young man: not a child. Yet, it carries with it some of the same feeings I had as a child. Instead of aching to fly along through a sunny park on a brand new bike, I have an urge to write about every magic scene I witness. Like – being out one dark morning where everything is wet and hazy and shape-shifting, as a storm transforms the street into the deck of a ship and passersby, their flimsy jackets clutched to their chins, are staggering against the frightening wind. And I take shelter in a glass-fronted bus shelter; and notice right away that the rain on the glass has made the street into a blurry, fantastic image. So, I take a photograph, and then a dozen more, just in case I miss something; and I know that somewhere in those images will be a bit of the time I am living through. A bit of the magic. One moment.

Harvey Duke

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