“Greg, you’ve got to be kidding me.”
I think that was the exact phrase that rushed through my head as my photo class was deciding what to do for our finals. We had to pick out five different styles of photography, and Greg, the photo professor, particularly liked my city photography, but in addition, he told me,
“I like it, but you’re being too sneaky. I need you to be more raw, more honest, more assertive.”
“Go confront people, take a picture, be on your way.”
Then he proceeded to cite Henri Cartier-Bresson as an example who was, in my professor’s words, “kind of a bastard.”He’s infamous for taking very real, interesting photos, but also being able to take pictures of people, right in front of their noses, and then leave without a trace. He’s kind of a bastard.
I was appalled, to say the least. I already get ridiculously nervous talking to people I know on a regular basis, let alone taking pictures of random strangers in their face. Images of me getting chased by grungy men and violently hit with purses rushed through my mind.
If that wasn’t tortuous enough, Greg also gave me a 35mm lens and told me to use that lens so that I could get closer to people. Eloi eloi lama sabachthani?
There is a lovely word by the name of sonder.
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
We never really think about people and their stories. It’s easier to label people and separate yourself from them, at least, it is for me. The person at the coffeeshop is just the person that takes your order and gives you coffee. That classmate sitting next to you is just your classmate. That person you dislike only possesses the qualities that you dislike. We never think about the vividity of their experiences.
So we label people and never really appreciate the depth, the complexity of the human abstract. We simplify all the culmination of a person’s worldview, all the worries and ambitions, all the emotions, into just a label or a mere afterthought.
The first time I went into the city to shoot, I was so anxious and nervous. But that quickly disappeared when I tried to sneak up on a girl playing with her dogs because I thought it would make for an interesting photo and it was really cute. Mostly because it was cute. Panic and adrenaline rushed my veins as the dogs snapped to attention when they heard the click of the shutter. They looked into me. I looked back. They were the abyss of embarassment I wanted to sink in and curl up in the fetal position to, or so I thought. They bounded and leaped toward me, tails wagging vigorously, giving me sloppy, wet kisses; the girl laughed and invited to join her and talk with her a bit. We made a conversation while petting the soft, plush light fur of the dogs, now content to rest their heads on our laps; talking about what she was doing, what she was studying, what I was doing trying to take a picture. It was such a warm, fuzzy conversation. Then I left to take more photos, much to the sadness of the dogs, but it was a colorful moment, a window into the reality of life.
I think I mentioned that I had images of burly men throwing punches at me and of an early funeral and grave, reading, “Here lies Nathan Kwon. Was stupid enough to take a picture of a random person. Beaten to death.” Maybe not the grave part. But all of it flashed into my mind when I took this picture:
They looked immediately at me as soon as they heard the shutter click with these facial expressions. They were several inches taller than me and when I saw their gaze fall witness to my now shrinking being, I thought, “holymotherofGodimgoingtodie.” I began to internally scream as the dude in the light grey hoodie and leather vest started to walk towards me, and I was getting ready to dodge punches when I heard a heavily accented voice laugh and tell me,
“Take a picture!”
I was baffled. Baffled enough to comply. This was the picture:
“Is it good?” he asked, after I had set down the camera.
“Yes, yes, very good!” I replied, quickly attempting to conceal the trembling in my voice.
He smiled and left. How strange that I assumed this man was going to react negatively simply because of his appearance and preconceived notions.
We all have stories to tell. We all desire to be known.
I love wandering in the city, if not taking photos. It produces a somewhat lonely feeling, but it’s one that I cherish and welcome with open arms. I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not good at socializing or the best with people; I fare better with an camera or a instrument or a pen in my hands. That’s how I like to speak, that’s my language, but it does feel lonesome. But being among buildings that scrape the sky remind me how small I am and how tiny my existence is in comparison to everything else. We’re all just blips in the Cosmic drama. It makes me feel a little less lonely, somehow. Seven billion people all finite together, all tiny together. In the city, I’m just another person going about their business among many people going about theirs. As someone who has grown up in a conservative church and household, I feel like I’ve had this tendency to assume things about other and different people outside my people and in-groups. Not that conservatism is wrong or that my church or my parents were bad (they are, on the contrary, very lovely) or that I want to place the blame on my circumstances: people just view the world differently based on past and present experiences, and it’s natural for people to view their relative perception as absolute. Not that truth isn’t absolute, but sensation and perception is so relative.
There is a band who I started listening to around sophomore year of high school. They’re called, The Famine. Their latest and last album before they disbanded in 2011, The Architects of Guilt, is amazing, and I still find it to be relevant still (perhaps even more so) today. They made an abrupt shift in sound from their first album, opting raw energy for mechanization and technicality. If I could describe The Architects of Guilt into one phrase, it would be “utter chaos.” It’s utter dissonance, sheer urgency and rage, and pessimism in aural form. And it works well with what they’re trying to get across. It’s a purely political album that points out various issues in society, but I’ll address the 4th, the 5th, and the 6th tracks.
The 4th track is called Turner Classic Diaries, a portmanteau of “The Turner Diaries” and “Turner Classic Movies,” primarily dealing with racism. “The order of anger is sequenced in hate. Cosmo-theistic doctrines of fiction by foolish children who firmly believe there is no comfort like fear. It’s gutless. You should be so ashamed.” Absolutely charming, isn’t it? (joke) How many times do people justify selfish means via religion or political agenda? We see it prominent in American society all the time: the Klu Klux Klan, supporters of Trump’s policies regarding immigrants/border patrol/law enforcement, the Westboro Baptist Church. Nick Nowell, the lyricist, primarily addresses Christianity (as his audience is the general American population after all) throughout the album, and he’s right to do so. How many times does the Church fail to be multi-ethnic? How many times do we really welcome the amalgamation of races? We see the divides in heavily Caucasian church, churches labelled as “Chinese,” or “Korean,” or whatever. Not that there is a spot or that there shouldn’t be a refuge or place for people to come together and share a similar culture together, because that space is duly needed, but if that becomes the defining basis on how a church is founded, it’s racial segregation masquerading under a different name. The Jew and the Gentile were meant to be brothers from the very start.
The 5th track is called Bigger Cages, Longer Chains! It primarily discusses bickering over the trivial and not the heavily important issues. In the words of Nowell commenting on the lyrics, “Bigger Cages, Longer Chains!’ was an Anarchist slogan used to poke fun at the political fervor over what amounted to trivial matters. Building a wall between America and Mexico isn’t the answer to our problems, and neither is crying about it on cable television.”” One lyric that strikes me is, “Pilate standing with one foot in his own grave, our hands are as filthy as they have ever been.” We can’t be busybodies in all the wrong places. I’ve witnessed many a church bicker over useless issues over small, insignificant details in doctrine or creating programs to garner more members and visitors, while neglecting the physical and spiritual and emotional needs of people. Did God not command to love both him and the brother? If we willfully ignore the problems that stare us in the face and instead wash our hands clean of another’s guilt, we are not cleansing the guilt, but merely repressing it. Was it the Pharisees or Pilate that consented for Jesus to be crucified?
The 6th track is titled The Crown and the Holy See, it deals with blind indoctrination. “Who is the father of the son of man, and to what has he given birth? A thousand little lies to pave the way, leading to what we have become.” Who have we preached? Jesus the Christ? Or an image of our own liking? Have we allowed people to consider, to think, to ask questions, to push, to press, to disciple, to challenge, to doubt? Or have we spoon-fed, force-fed every single word, every single doctrine to the sheep we must love and care for? Have we considered the other? Or demanded that the other consider us?
Is the Son of Man our Father? Or instead, are we the father of the son of man?
The issue is, all of these problems; minority oppression, justice, blind indoctrination, they can be solved with love.
Once we stop labeling people or unconsciously downplaying the lucidity of the Other’s experience, the Imago Dei becomes that much more evident, and loving becomes the natural response.
It’s easier to deny the self. It’s harder to invest and to love; C. S. Lewis said something like that in one of his essays, The Weight of Glory. Lewis goes on further to say, “It would seem that… our desires [are] not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
We stand upon on the precipice of Love, only to step back from our falling, in our foolish thinking as if our comfort and safety could provide us with joy more than Love could. There are 7 billion stories, rich with detail, waiting to be read and cherished.
We desire to be loved. We desire to be known.
I write poetry occasionally, and I was talking with my friend, Hannah Lane (check out her stuff at threesixtyfivepoetry.wordpress.com) of something I wrote recently. One of the stanzas goes like this:
“…[Love] is the script that all Creation speaks,
And surely all these things find their one place:
The bequeathing of Life to the Other.
For all under the Sun desire this:
To be well-loved and to love well, truly.
Many seek one and seek not its Other,
Only to find instead that in the search,
The giving and the receiving are One.
For how will one truly know how to give,
If he cares not for the joy to receive?
And how will another know how to take,
If, in his taking, he has not given?”
How are we to take if we have not given? Should we be showered with affection if we care not enough to know other people well? If we do not consider the brother?We must learn that the giving and the taking are one.
There is a story in the Old Testament that I’m sure most people are familiar with, the one of the Tower of Babel. It’s a strange story where God cursed Man and sent him in different directions, creating different languages: by this story alone, it seems Man was cursed to speak in different tongues for his hubris. However, its parallel, Pentecost starts to twist the narrative.
Logically, if the difference in language was the curse, shouldn’t its reversal be a unification? But because Pentecost didn’t make those present speak in one tongue, and instead made everybody understand different tongues, it implies an appreciation, an affection for diversity. Of difference. I’d like to imagine a scenario where the Fall wouldn’t be present: where the hugeness and creativity of God displays itself in different cultures and languages even without the presence of the Tower of Babel.
We were meant to be different, and we were meant to bridge that gap.
I find the difference between Adam and Eve so fascinating. They are both “human,” but physically, they are different. In consciousness, they are different. I’m sure their sensing and perceiving would be different in little ways. They’re so different down to every last detail. Yet, it was good for them to unite and be one flesh. There’s richness in community that explores the differences and embraces them.I find ourselves to be like the people in Plato’s Cave. All we’ve known is darkness, and the very thought of light is inconceivable, frightening. How could there be something more than what we’ve experienced? But once we step into the richness of people, of diversity, we can no longer turn back. We will never be the same. Love will take hold.
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.Taking photos and interacting with the random passerby, getting to know the Other let me reach my hand and bridge the gap in some way. It’s beautiful seeing, capturing people in the realness, in the rawness, in the naked honesty of it all. It’s beautiful seeing how people react to the camera, how they react and talk to me. Hearing their voices. Their tales. Their stories. Shaking young firm hands and old withered ones. Catching the glance of an elderly woman, a little embarrassed that I have just taken a photo of her. Catching the quietness of a young lady, pondering, mulling over her thoughts as she’s enjoying a hamburger. The rich man walking with his Sunday’s finest and his briefcase. The poor with nothing but shambles, and a McDonald’s cup, jingling with spare change and a plea for food. 7 billion stories to behold. Even more ambitions. Worries. Beauty. Brokenness. Every life just as rich and complex as ours. There’s a whole world out there, if only we would have the eyes to see it.
Step into lucidity. Fall into Love.
So we shall realize that we are all random passerby in one way or another, and with that realization be humbled to know and serve others. To love others. And in the brevity of life, so shall we honor and be grateful to love people in every chance we can surmise. Life is too short to forge hatred; let him who can speak and understand, love. Love both the neighbor and the stranger.
“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word,love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” ~1 John 2:3-6
Pour Love unto Love, and let Love be made complete in us.