On being a good photographer (or maybe just on taking lots of pictures)

I was recently in Girona on my way from Murcia towards Berlin.

Girona is a really pretty city, at least what I saw in the 17 or so hours I was there. Much friendlier than Barcelona and much less scary to walk around at night.

I wandered between the old old houses and shops, admiring the art nouveau balconies and door handles, stopping ever few hundred metres to take photos of things people probably mostly ignore. Missing bricks, the compass worked into the street, the street signs and the people on the traffic lights.

I visited the ancient Arabic baths and tried to visit the cathedral (but decided the entrance fee was unjustified). I was on my way to the remains of the tall wall that originally enclosed the city when I met Amanda.

I didn’t know she was called Amanda and I wasn’t out to meet anyone. Especially someone as glamorous as Amanda. I wanted to know how to get onto the wall and she was the only person around to ask. If there’d been anyone else I would have asked them instead.

“I think there’s a staircase along here next to the tower, let’s go and find out.”

She set off and I followed at a distance, leaving her some space – space it turned out she wasn’t really all that interested in.

***

“Do you think you could take a picture of me?”

She’d been fighting her phone for a while, trying to find a way to fit herself, the wall and the cathedral onto one photo.

“Yeah, sure, if you show me how your phone works..”

She handed it over (“Just press here”) and started posing, adjusting her hair and sunglasses, shuffling her position, arranging and rearranging herself, letting the sun dance on her face and make her earrings sparkle – obviously this is something she’s used to doing.

Click.

“Hey, give me your bag and your water bottle – they don’t need to be in the picture, and I’ll move my bag out of the way too. There.”

Click click click.

“The wind keeps messing my hair up..”

“I think if you turn just a bit more to the left.. Perfect.. Hold that…”

Click. Click. Click click click.

“Here, have a look to see if you’re happy with them. I can take more if you don’t like them.” I hand her phone back.

“Wow! You took loads! Thank you! I love this one, and this one. And this one’s good with the cathedral – you’re a really good photographer. Thank you so much!” She smiled as she flicked through the pictures. “Can you take another one of me in close up? From over there..”

Click. Click click. Shuffle. Rearrange. Click.

“There you go.”

“Thanks ever so much. That’s brilliant. Thank you!” she gushes. “Most people just take one and don’t check if you have your eyes shut or if you’re smiling. They don’t even make sure that the scenery fits on the photo. You’re lucky if they don’t cut part of your head off..” She paused. “Do you want me to take some of you?”

*panic* “Uh…” My mind races. Me? No way. Why not? I can’t. Just because you don’t usually. You can’t always hide behind the camera.. Ugh. “Ok. Go ahead. Please.”

My phone beeps as I hand it over – less than 10% battery life left. I hope it lasts until I’ve found my way back to the station. I hope there are plugs on the train. I hope I’m there in time to catch the train. I hope..

Click.

I stop thinking about the rest of the journey for a minute and try and act a fraction as cool as Amanda while she takes pictures. I think I need more practice at this posing lark.

Then it’s over (“Is that ok? Want any more?” “No, that’s more than enough, I have to get back to the station..”). I jump down off the wall, get my phone back, pick up my bags, start to leave.

Halfway down the steps I remember the other lady who’d been sitting by herself and who’d watched us taking pictures of each other for a few seconds before turning back to stare across the city. I go back up to the platform and ask her if she wants her photo taken too. She looks up, shy, and tells me she was going to take a selfie, but if I’m offering.. She stops mid-sentence, reminding me more of myself than of Amanda. I put down my bags and take her phone. She looks like she feels even more awkward than me as she balances on the wall, hugging her knees. I take a couple of pictures and ask her if she wants to move along the wall a bit – the sun’s behind her and I can only take pictures of her silhouette. She laughs, moves, resettles. “Better?” “Much.”

Click click. Click. Click click click.

I move too, trying to get her and the cathedral and the wall and the clouds onto a picture without anything getting in the way of anything else.

“This is like a proper photo shoot!”

I doubt it but we laugh anyway. She’s finally relaxed enough to sit naturally.

Click. Click.

Click.

Beep! My phone is still in the process of dying, reminding me that I have a train to catch. I hand her phone back and say I have to go. She thanks me and goes back to her original position, looks across the city, looks at the pictures I’ve taken. Smiles.

I catch up with Amanda at the bottom of the tower, she’s been waiting for me. She wants me to take more photos of her along the next section of the wall.

We align clouds, walls, towers, roofs, trees as we make our way towards the end of the wall, sharing fragments of our lives – and the current moment – with each other. It appears we’re not so different after all, our reasons for being in Girona, our opinion of Barcelona, our travel plans for the next few days. Not identical, but similar enough to feel more than coincidental. The realisation that there’s a person under all that make-up is a surprise. Especially a person I can relate to. I am always surprised by this; in my mind at least, I still associate heavily made up people with the “cool” girls in my class at school. The ones who would rather do anything than talk to me and risk losing their coolness. The ones I had less than nothing in common with. The ones I still ‘see’ despite the years and miles between us.

At the end of the wall she thanks me again, profusely, for all the photos I took along the way, telling me again that I’m a great photographer. She ignore my protests that I just take lots of pictures and occasionally some work well, and instead wishes me a good time travelling. She insists we take a selfie together. One each. To remember.

Together. Me and Amanda. The laid back, perfectly made up, glamorous Amanda from Brazil, with her pearl earrings and flowing hair, who wouldn’t look out of place in a magazine or on one of those huge roadside posters advertising sunglasses or perfume, and me. In one picture. On purpose. Despite my messy bun and crumpled skirt and bag lady luggage. My word.

One day, I decide, I will lose some of my shallowness. Some of my prejudice. And maybe, maybe also some of my reluctance to talk to [makeup wearing] strangers.

***

This is me, sitting at the top of a tower on Girona’s city wall in November, taken by Amanda from Brazil:

3 Replies to “On being a good photographer (or maybe just on taking lots of pictures)”

  1. I love this. I always try to jump in and take pictures for people, too. I always say “nice people make things”–I make blankets and photographs, and I give them to people with love. Sometimes it feels particularly good when they’re strangers! =)

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