On Being Alone, Listening to the World

Long-suffering life partners know all about it: Just then, the situation has been a shared experience for two people, a true dialogue. The last thought still hangs in the air, waiting to be finished. But all at once the other one whips out the camera and disappears from the conversation. That is not what politeness dictates – at least as long as being in contact means assuring each other. Granted, it is a beautiful relationship in which both can be sure that the other person will eventually return her or his attention and continue the abandoned thread of conversation.

But since keeping company tends to disagree with taking photographs, most photographers prefer to head out alone. “Sauntering” seems a good word for this state of slowly walking on, being completely in the moment. Turning one’s perhaps secure and vigorous self towards seeing, unfurling to openness. Along with this precious process comes the feeling of being alone. Once you give up your habitual patterns and strategies of sorting and shelving the world, true intimacy will come. Then you must find the courage to embrace the situation, to get rid of your usual orientation and navigation. To be aware of being alone, or even of its further form of expression, loneliness, is a good sign. Both are trailblazers for tangibility and resonance, for sensibility and presence

Being alone is a chosen state, and the camera is a wonderful credential for sauntering along without aim. A good friend of mine with a large and happy dog puts on her thick boots twice a day and wanders off into nature. Maybe my camera is like a dog – it lends my actions some outward credibility. Sometimes people warily observe my behavior and ask me what exactly I am taking photos of. I usually claim to be in a photography class, out with a specific task. Statements like “I am looking for color” or “I am intrigued by the reflection of paint on your car” seem so absurdly honest that people desist from seeing me as vanguard of an evil car thief gang.

Being alone is also part of writing. My ideal situation is traveling to an unknown location which conveys a feeling of strangeness, a slight uncertainty, some shift of my habits. That opens me up for thought. I carry my thoughts around, feeding them with encounters. Not knowing exactly what to think yet, still expanding the experience.

On my last trip to Paris, I am touring the 18th arrondissement with friends. Near the metro station, groups of young men are gathering, probably drug dealers. Away from the crowds, the view opens over wide areas of abandoned railroad tracks. Bridges and even more bridges erect wild structures. A sudden vastness expands, a flock of birds fly up in the air. Then again a narrow street with an African restaurant in it. Behind its dainty curtains, people’s shadowy outlines pop up. A whole truck full of mint. The herb vendor gives us some sprigs for free. I don’t have a clear idea where we are; I just know I want to come back the next day. The next morning, I learn from the guide book that this district Goutte d’Or (or Barbès) is considered a no-go area. I argue with myself, pondering on what attracted me there, caught between sensationalism and the joy of discovery. At last I decide to go on a walk, trying to feel when I can be open to the present and when my perception changes to cliché. I am interested in experiencing myself alone in an allegedly strange place that invites projections. I wish to give way to these projections and them return to a new openness again and again. I am not certain if I will even take my camera out of its bag; fear is a known companion of being alone, after all.

Aside from what people say or write about it, Goutte d’Or is an ordinary neighborhood. The sound of voices in the crowded streets impresses me most. African and Arabian culture. Whole animals are up for sale. What little I know about the French language leads me to suspect that all parts of a cow can be purchased at a stall in the middle of the street. There are cow’s heads and pigs’ feet piled up high. Men are roasting peanuts and chestnuts. Women in traditional clothes are holding some purple fruit up for sale This picture remains with me, even without the camera. I feel a constant change between excitement and perception. Taking a break helps me. When I rest, seeing comes back to me. I stand next to a woman with heavy shopping bags and pretend to wait for someone. When I am alone, my perception gets sharper: how and when I can get in resonance, when I can begin contact and how I can listen to the world and encounter it.

That day, I finish my walk at the L’Institut des Cultures d’Islam. I get a very friendly welcome and am allowed to look at the calligraphy exhibition even though it ended a week ago. The man at the entrance assures me it’s okay – they haven’t started taking anything down yet. He speaks French, I speak English – it’s all the same. Bienvenue!

Per Klick auf das erste Bild öffnet sich die Galerie als große Ansicht. / Click on the first image to look at the images in full screen.

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Reise / Travel

Neugier statt Angst – sorry no english translation

Comments (2)

  1. Wunderbarer Text und stimmungsvolle Fotos! Beides ergänzt sich wunderbar und weckt wieder die Lust auf einen Ausflug nach Paris.

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