Capturing Attention

Fallen leaves cover the ground on Hillhouse Avenue.

It seems to me that the majority of people who walk on Hillhouse Avenue forget sometimes how beautiful it is. This picture, though, is much less about the street itself and more about the idea of devoting attention to the things around us that we take for granted (please forgive me for the cliche). Yes, the buildings are impressive. And yes, the trees in New Haven at the end of autumn are striking. But I was surprised most about how embarrassed I felt while taking these pictures. Despite the fact that I walk up and down this sidewalk every day and consider this city my home, I felt silly stopping to take a photograph, as if using a camera signaled to everyone around me that I was/am separate from this place.

When I stopped here, a lot of the foot traffic continued to fly past me as students and faculty made their way to classes and office hours. While their feet never stopped, their gazes followed the path of my camera’s lens. They wanted so badly to know what had captured my attention, but nothing in front of me was unusual. This street is almost always buzzing and clean and beautiful, so I was probably understood to be a tourist. Even so, I wanted to shout at everyone who whizzed by, “Hey! I go to this school and I have been here for more than four years! Isn’t it still so beautiful?” But, of course, I didn’t.

But it made me wonder about photography more generally. In the age of Facebook, it is entirely natural for anyone to take out a camera and snap a shot of his or her friends having a great time at a restaurant or club or football game. But what about the buildings or nature? Is one only granted license to photograph space when experiencing it for the first time? Why did I feel so exposed for the brief moments that I was snapping photos?

I’d love to hear what you think.