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Pictures not taken

[Originally published at the now defunct group blog explananda.com]

Posted on September 23, 2007

The other day on the subway, I saw a man dash down a set of stairs and squeeze - just barely! - through the closing subway doors. He was alone, and there was no one to congratulate him on making it, so he was left to do the job himself, which he did with a quick but very satisfied little smile. I see this sort of thing every day, but for some reason the way he was just so very pleased with himself amused me.

It would have been nearly impossible to capture the moment with a camera. I would have needed the camera with me, out and pointed already in his direction, and even then I wouldn’t have taken the shot for fear of rudeness; because I wouldn’t have seen that great little grin coming; and because I would surely have botched the shot anyway. Still, I wish I had been able to take that shot because I wish you could see it too.

My all time favourite picture not taken was also not taken on the subway. It was an A train, I believe, on its way to Jamaica, Queens. I sat across from two 45 or 50 year old women, probably Russian, one of whom was showing quite a bit of cleavage. They were together, talking intermittently, but talking in a way that suggested they were perhaps colleagues rather than friends. At a certain point the busty woman looked down the subway car away from her companion, and her companion’s eyes traveled quickly down to the busty woman’s cleavage. I have a generally lousy visual memory, but I still have a reasonably clear mental image of the flicker of barely suppressed disgust and disapproval on the companion’s face.

I would have treasured a picture of that moment my whole life, but all I have from it is a fading mental image and now this little scrap of a blog post.

So, what are your favourite pictures not taken?


Author: Steve Laniel
Date: 2007-09-23

I was in a train station in Nice or Lyon, I believe. There were two rows of chairs facing each other. A very flamboyantly dressed, tall, leggy woman was sauntering our way from my right, and my head was following her movement almost against its will. Eventually she passed behind me, so I couldn’t turn my head anymore. Instead I shifted to watching the people in the row of chairs across from me. All of their heads were also moving at exactly the same pace as the woman’s gait. I scanned down the row of chairs, and eventually made eye contact with a guy who was watching me watch the spectators watch the woman. I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Just too much meta in one place.

I don’t know if I could have caught all that on a still photo. It might have required a video. A still shot of all the heads, though, maybe a bit blurry from the motion, would have provided a nice illustration for a story.

Author: Chris
Date: 2007-09-23

Wow. Gazing at gazing at gazing at the male gaze. But I think you’re right: Difficult or impossible to capture in a single shot.

Author: upyernoz
Date: 2007-09-23

i should be coming up with a ton of examples. it’s not all that rare that i see something and think: “i wish i had a camera”

but i can’t think of any of them now. not a single one. i simply can’t remember. and i knew that would happen too. that’s why i wished i had a camera.