All these things that I’ve done

By Jon Hillenbrand In Photography, Stories

Tomorrow is my birthday. Thirty-six. Alla, the girl who cuts my hair, says I’m just a baby though an increasing percentage of the clipped hair falling from her scissors is silver. She’s getting married for the second time now at forty-five and I’ve never seen her happier. She insists that people who get married before they are forty are nuts.  She did it and she thinks of herself as nuts.  People just change too much during that transitional era between twenty and forty, she says.  You don’t know yourself until you’ve hit forty, let alone anyone else.  I’ve been going to her for almost five years now and I feel like I’ve seen her love life go from the depths of discouragement to the heights of elation. I’m so happy to see her in love. She really deserves it; my friend.

There are a lot of reasons why I like Alla. She is a professional artist making a living doing her craft well, she’s funny and honest and has helped drag herself out of bad situations; but a big reason why I like her is that she seems to remember the smallest detail of my life. I’ve told her about my sisters’ relationships, my relationships, my job, my coworkers and she seems to be able to remember every one’s name, every role and even subtleties of meaning which escape most others who are just waiting for their turn to talk. I feel like a jerk when I can’t remember her native language (Russian); such a basic. The memory that she has for her clients’ individual lives is a goal that I hope to mirror one day with my own clients. I feel creating a portrait with someone is just as intimate or not as a haircut. I definitely remember 95% of the faces I’ve photographed, but names often escape me. So maybe it’s my age catching up with me or it’s the bad sleep patterns or stress.  Either way, her passionate recall of client details remains an admirable talent to emulate.

Anyway, this blog isn’t going to be that well written. I just wanted to get something down on paper, to use an ancient phrase from my youth. The above photo is one of my first tries at taking something good. I used my sister Anne’s Minolta film camera when I was taking a B&W photography course at College of DuPage during my senior year of high school. To this day, that class is the only formal photographic training I’ve received, having studied film and video production in college. It remains the class that has taught me the most about the basics of lighting and composition and it was the class where I learned the most about trying to get content and meaning into an image. Basic exercises such as trying to find letters in everyday objects (the above photo was my “X” submission entitled, “X-man”), looking for repeating patterns, trying to create three dimensional depth in a two dimensional medium; these are things I return to every time I put the camera to my eye. I suppose this class was the most important one of my career. It’s also the class where I first started to receive positive feedback in large amounts for something I’d done on my own. I have always done fairly well in school, but Photography 101 was the class where everyone thought I was talented. It was the most fun I’d ever had in school, not seeming to be work at all.  The fun I had combined with the positive feedback of everyone convinced me to think hard about changing from Pre-Med to the visual arts while approaching the end of my Freshman year at Loyola University.  While I was pretty good at regurgitating General Biology and Inorganic Chemistry, I couldn’t imagine doing it for the rest of my life.  I wondered if shooting photos for a living was something that I could possibly get away with.  It would be the ultimate defeat of the system because no matter how bad a job was, I’d still be doing something I loved.  As a Libra, I found it very appealing to create a career for myself where I’d beat the system since Justice never seems to prevail in existing systems.  Other people would trudge to work every day, sad and bored.  I’d get up every day and go have fun.

Well, it only took the ENTIRE SECOND HALF of my thirty-six years for it to come to fruition.  But here I am doing what I love, getting positive feedback all of the time, meeting cool people and longing for that backlit curve I hold in the imagination of my memory, subtle and porous, reacting to my touch and (possibly) never to be captured for it exists in the fleeting moments between sleep and wakefulness, a longing breath away.

What do you think?