Deep Thoughts: Blurry Pictures Aren't Bad Pictures

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

As humans we naturally go through cycles. Like the color (and quantity) of our hair, our tastes change with time. Things we once thought were great, become dull---that which was once garbage, becomes our treasure.

As it relates to photography, I've been guilty of obsessing over technical perfection--sharp image, natural saturation, logical framing, good lighting, etc. This was a problem. I was fretting over the technical merits of an image and not what mattered most--how it made me feel. What's more, with my own images, I was neglecting to remember the unique set of circumstances which made me feel inclined to capture the moment.

Over the past few days I've been combing through my images to find some pictures which by technical standards are complete failures---BUT are images which evoke strong memories or feelings. Here are a few from my ventures in Brazil:

While in Brazil (Manaus specifically), I often walked the streets with a small point and shoot camera tucked away in my bag (think over-sized fanny pack). As luck would have it, I my time in Brazil was spend hopping from one notoriously dangerous neighborhood to the next---my first was called Compensa.

While in the throes of culture shock and struggling to learn Portuguese, I was overly cautious in my engagements (and photography). The image below is a testament to this. After a long day wandering the streets, I struck up a conversation with a family on my way home. Children ran around on the clay in front of the house yelling and pretending to shoot each other---children things. The mother, a bit wary, stayed inside the house, conversing from behind a doorway. Her daughter, with one hand on the mother, leaned curiously in my direction.

The sun was making its daily journey below the horizon and the sky was a watercolor-collage of orange, pink, and faint reds. For some reason, I felt the urge to record the moment rather than the spectacular sunset. Nonchalantly, I reached into my bag, switched the flash off, snapped a picture, and tucked the camera away---I felt so slick. It wasn't until I returned home that I realized I'd completely botched the picture. With time, however, this botched image has grown on me, leaving an impression hundreds of other much sharper images could not.

Months later, I was successfully assimilated into Brazilian society. I was loving the food, making friends, and FINALLY, speaking the language in intelligibly. By now I had left Compensa for an equally dangerous neighborhood called Cidade de Deus (City of God, ironically). Cidade de Deus is an interesting, sprawling community, with pockets of indigenous peoples sprinkled throughout. The roads are mostly dirt and defy gravity. The neighborhood stretches northward until it runs into one of the largest forest reserves in the Amazon. While breathtaking, this reserve conveniently doubles a burial ground for rival gang members and addicts a bit short on their drug money buy that's a story for another time.

At night, things get dark. Streets and homes are faintly illuminated by barely-aglow-bulbs fueled by stolen electricity. Once again, it was late and I was chatting with a family in front of there house. Their house, in reality, was more of a shack, precariously perched at the end of a street which quickly transitioned from asphalt to nothingness. A cool breeze was blowing and an orchestra of insects, frogs, and other creatures of the night, played a very loud, but not unwelcomed, soundtrack. Lights flickered in the distance. One last sign of humanity before miles of pitch-black, uninhabited forest. In the middle of a neighborhood wreaking of chaos, corruption, and murder, I found myself at peace. I captured the moment.

I consider myself lucky to have returned to Manaus, Brazil on multiple occasions to visit friends and family. In my most recent return (December 2018/January 2019), I wielded a film point and shoot loaded with some cheap FujiFilm C200---perfect for the predominately sun-drenched Amazon state. Unless, of course, it's raining.

The weather in Manaus has a knack for catching people unexpected. While there are lunchtime rains which can be predicted down to the minute, there are also random late afternoon rains which meteorology has yet to comprehend. Clouds roll in at unprecedented speeds, turning blue skies a beautiful grey-purple. Within moments, the skies unleash torrential rain. The rain lasts just long enough to be inconvenient, then rolls south across the Rio Amazonas. One day in particular, I found myself amongst the unprepared while in Bairro da Uniao. During this spectacular force of nature, I captured two images.

The first image was of a delivery motorcyclist attempting to outrun the storm. After getting the picture, I ran in the opposite direction towards to a sheltered bus stop (middle/right of image, red tile roof). The second was taken from the bus stop. While I waited out the storm, a woman across the street pushed onward through the elements. There usually comes a point when you can't get any more wet, yet somehow through the help of the storm, she manages to surpass that point. Eventually, the storm passed. Camera in hand, I jogged home while gazing into the sky for any harbingers of precipitation.

These images, although blurry, have the power to transport me---allowing me to tap into memories which, to this day, remain sharp as ever. Blurry pictures, are not bad pictures.

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