Forgot password?
A creative blog by Anthony Godoy on The Whole 9

Anthony Godoy is the creative director at Dead Serious MM, a Seattle boutique branding agency. He’s also a photographer and life-long writer whose work has appeared on The Whole 9 for a few years. Though his days are being infringed upon more and more by business development and management responsibilities (running a company and all), he still finds time to hit the design world hands on. He is also a skier, lover of music and gets around pretty fast in the social media circles. Follow him on Twitter, @deadseriousmm, and on Facebook at Dead Serious MM.

San Fermin

I am a frugal man. Today I will wash my shoes, San Fermin. And for that I ask for your forgiveness.

###

In John Turturro’s film Fading Gigolo, there’s a scene at 18:21 of a guy hosing down the sidewalk before turning the hose on a tree. It’s a moment that has nothing to do with the plot and involves no characters in the film, but I LMFAO. Only after seeing it five times did I read anything into it. The first four it was detached from context and story, meaningless, just flying by like a bee through a picnic, and it’s my second favorite moment in the film.

In many of my favorite films there are these moments, put there on purpose or not, that I can watch over and over that seem to have nothing to do with anything, but I laugh, or think or am affected in some way. They’re independent and ask nothing from me in the long run. These moments are often what make a movie a favorite.

###

There is a five-gallon bucket on the kitchen floor. I can see half of it from where I sit on the bed. In it is what I suspect to be the best pair of shoes I’ve ever had. Twenty minutes ago I scrubbed their sidewalls back to bright white. Now they are submerged in the bucket, and I’m reminded of a tortured soul who told me of a drowning raccoon. That was a story. The shoes aren’t putting up the kind of fight the raccoon did. But still, I put them there and I feel I’ve betrayed them somehow. Also a story.

I’m a little emotionally raw already, figuring out a potential new client. The new-to-us car broke down yesterday. My wife is coming back tonight from a business trip during which she celebrated her birthday (that I missed), and she’s still suffering from a nearly debilitating neck injury. I’ll have to tell her about the car.

And there are my shoes, underwater, quietly kicking for their lives.

Though I try to avoid walking under ladders, I’m not superstitious. I am however sentimental, and having just scrubbed off the sticky street goo I earned during this year’s San Fermin in Pamplona, I’m quickly nearing an agitated state.

I’m going to go make myself a cup of afternoon coffee to round out the pain. It’s the same reason I smoked in India.

###

Our first night in Pamplona, the first night of San Fermin, my friend Dave and I hit the ground drinking. Two-liter bottles of sangria were $3. I don’t remember what happened to Dave or getting back to the apartment, and I flew out of bed the next morning at 5:15 not knowing where I was or what was going on. As I get older, that gets stranger, perhaps even a little easier, though it’s still no picnic. At exactly 9:15 that morning things got rough, and right around two that afternoon I was completely out of my mind. I tried taking a nap.

When I laid down and closed my eyes, a silvery movie projected against the blackness of my eyelids. It was a lock-off shot of a European fountain, with random people, kids, dogs and birds passing through the frame. The camera pointed a few degrees too low, almost annoyingly. It had a frame rate of one every 3/4 second. And it appeared murky enough to not be able to make out details, kind of like a dream. Not only was it locked off (the camera doesn’t move), but I couldn’t look away from the center of the frame, leaving everything else in the periphery.

There was no plot. There was nothing special about any of the 3/4-second tiles. It was basic people watching, and they seemed to ignore the camera, the way they would ignore a man with his hand held out begging for coins. I opened and closed my eyes from time to time to see if the projection would return, and it did. I comfortably watched it for around 2 hours. It wasn’t a scene, really, and it wasn’t a collection of images. They were just context-free moments strung together over time.

Maybe I was hallucinating, so tired that the candy I’d eaten shortly before laying down (which I brought with me from SEATTLE) put me over the edge and my mind started projecting this scenario. I’ve hallucinated plenty in my time but never in this jerky frame rate, and never of something so pedestrian as people around a fountain. I watched calmly, wondering when a story was going to unfold, or when it would get visually interesting the way a good hallucination does. But it never did.

Later I told Dave, and he didn’t seem surprised. He boiled it down, reminding me that I’d spent weeks living through a camera, existing from click to click, stealing moments from unfolding scenarios. I’d been traveling in the heat, and I’d hardly slept in days. And being pickled in sangria, something was bound to happen.

Something happened.

Dave’s comments reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a college professor on the source of dreams. His theory was that a dream is simply leftover energy in the brain’s visual cortex. When we sleep, our brains purge excess energy by randomly firing. As I lay there too tired to sleep, my brain started dumping energy, and there it was, the raw material of a dream, unmolested by sleep.

Actually, there was nothing random about it. How many fountains had I stared at in the past couple weeks? How many people had passed in front of my camera and me? Kids? Dogs? Birds? All of it was relevant. But why the 3/4-sec frame rate? Why the annoying tilted angle and helpless stare? Why the silver tint (that I have seen in hallucinations)? Something made this. But what?

###

Going to Pamplona didn’t just spring up from nothing, like, I woke up one day barking “Bulls!” My wife had been planning a Europe trip for some time, part family business (she’s Romanian), and part return to the Loire Valley she’d fallen in love with on a previous trip with girlfriends. As she laid down the plan, I noticed we were to be between Paris and Madrid at the beginning of July.

When I think of the beginning of July, I don’t think of fireworks and charred hot dogs. I think of Italy, 2001, where I nearly died from something India gave me. Dave said, “Happy Fourth of July” from a nearby couch. A couple days later I read that San Fermin was jumping off, and the two became inextricably connected. Fourth of July to me means San Fermin. It means Pamplona.

I called Dave in April of this year, out of the blue saying, “Dave. Pamplona. July.” I heard him pause long enough to refer to his mental calendar before replying, “Yeah, sure,” but not in the “Yeah, right,” kind of way, but in the, “Yes, of course,” kind of way. He’s always calm. I suspect were he to go down in an airplane, and as those around him are losing their minds, he’ll calmly try placing one more order from SkyMall before impact, in case he survives.

I’d secured an apartment, and Pamplona wasn’t going anywhere. That was good enough for me, and apparently good enough for Dave. We connected in Paris on July 5th, during what was the hottest week Paris had seen in some 60 years. And the next day we flew to Pamplona.

###

Knowing my wife and I were to cover some ground, I made a specific decision to bring my camera and shoot everything I could. And it wasn’t a frivolous decision. She’d once implored me to leave my camera at home before taking off for Paris I think. She told me I’m working when I have a camera with me. It established that I am one thing when I have a camera, and that I am another when I do not.

With both eyes unencumbered, we see things in real time, and react accordingly. With my wife I’m a hormone-filled 7-year old, getting lost, bugging her with incessant questions and roaming hands, and I’m always hungry. “What’s that?” “Can we go there?” “Can we eat here?” “But why not?” But put a camera in my fingers, and I’m just a hormone-filled shell of a man, wandering off, and moving unpredictably like a dog following its nose. If I act differently because of the camera, I must also think differently.

The difference is the camera. I’m curious and playful without it, and with it, well, I don’t know. What am I? It feels seamless, but it’s looking like it really isn’t. And if my behavior changes, what else changes? Does my brain go into some different mode when I have that camera in my hands?

###

During the 3-week trip between Spain, Romania and France, I shot maybe 10,000 images, or moments. Much of it is vacation stuff with the Anthony photographic spin, pictures designed to highlight our trip to friends and family. The rest was what may come. At each day’s end, I’d scrub through hundreds of images, process some and then post most to my Tumblr page. I posted maybe 230 over the course of the trip. That’s roughly a 40:1 ratio of available shots to those I deemed fit to post. Looking at that ratio seems weird, right? An experienced monkey could shoot 40:1.

Of those posted shots, I’ve printed only a single image. That’s 230:1. I Googled what else might have a ratio of 230:1. The first thing that came up is the Texas Rangers’ odds of winning the 2015 American League Pennant, 230:1, calculated in late April, 2015.

Odds show something. Of the 230 images I posted, one is fit to print. But what does that mean? Well, fifteen years ago I was showing images and video I’d shot in India and Asia, and tried to get people involved in the story. Nobody cared. Nobody I knew, anyway. As time went on and the glut of online imagery grew exponentially, I got the feeling people cared less and less about any story at all, and fed off of the interactivity of clicking through hundred’s of images in as little time as an internet connection would allow. 230:1 has something to do with incentive. Why would I print what nobody cares about, not even me?

Today when I shoot, I don’t care about any story, unless I’m shooting with a predetermined story to tell, and when I do that, I have full control of the subject, and all the time in the world to stage the shot. That’s my branding work.

As I vagabond around shooting moments, I’m not looking to tell any story, but to just capture an interesting image someone somewhere will spend perhaps a full second tickling some newly evolved cerebral pleasure center with.

I suspect a good rambling photographer can hit a better ratio of free-flow shooting. 50:1 maybe. But then how many overall shots? 10,000 over 3 weeks? 50,000 over 5 days? My recent trip looks like this, 10,000:230:1. Does that mean that my chances of taking a printable shot are 230:1? Or 10,000:1? Really? 10,000:1?

What that means is a sick feeling in my stomach that I’ve wasted something – time, money, opportunity, I don’t know. But imagine numbers that look more like this, 500:250:100. Of 500 shots, half are postable, and over a third of those postable are printable. Is that even possible? 5:1? How good of a shooter do you have to be to hit that number?

And that one single shot sitting in my office, a 20×20 inch print, I can’t even bring myself to take to the framer. Something else is at work here. Something terrible.

###

Madrid’s airport is big. Not only are its runways spread out over the foreseeable future, but the terminal we were in has a really high ceiling, and I swear it’s a mile long. Dave and I were grinding down bocadillos when I saw a guy in the distance wearing distinctive red and white. As he drew nearer, I whispered to Dave, “I bet he’s running.” It seemed like the guy heard me, and in Terminator fashion, with a concrete expression, sunglasses and all, he stopped and turned his head towered me before continuing on.

His name was Erik, a professor from Florida, I think he said, and he was headed to Pamplona for his fourth San Fermin trip. He looked dressed for a friendly game of tackle football, only serious, like the one guy on the field you’d want to avoid. He asked if we could split a cab when we landed, and then gave us the Cliff notes on what to expect in Pamplona.

His first piece of advice was to not just show up, get hammered and run with the bulls. He said the vast majority of people who get hurt are those who do exactly that. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have seen the sense in that. It’s almost cheating. Now pushing 50, right. Scope it out first, then maybe. But probably not. But maybe. Next year.

His next piece of advice was that if you do run, stay on the inside of corners, and avoid what I thought he called “suelos,” though I don’t think that’s exactly the word he said. Bulls that run in a pack have a pack mentality, and freaked-out individuals running in front of them are not a priority. But for the bulls that find themselves separated from the pack, things become points of interest, and bulls will take a different tack, which likely include actions against individuals.

He said something about not wearing a backpack when you run, mentioning that the last guy to die there was a traveling student who showed up and ran with his pack on. I did see later what getting snagged looked like. I’m surprised the handkerchief round the neck is still so popular.

He said a drink doesn’t hurt, but being hammered and sleepless can count against you. How can it not? I mean there’s a lot to be said for the rush of adrenaline one experiences when faced with danger. But even then, a lot of people get that rush when running from something terrible, and would have made it were it not for being faded. I did see a few examples of extreme focus. In the image below, you can see the panic moving one way, and the one guy standing his ground. Man crush.

He mentioned a couple of bars and cafes where we’d be sure to find an American contingent. By the time we arrived in the old city where our apartment was, we knew a thing or two about the Running. We never saw Erik again.

###

Assignment photographers will often have an angle to shoot, or some premise to support through images. If they don’t get it before leaving for a destination, it will present itself soon enough upon arrival. You’re lucky if it’s an honest angle, say, Death In Gaza. You’re screwed if it’s dishonest, like, The Real Kardashian. Those are largely editorial shooters.

I’ve done editorial work in the past, and will do it again I’m sure. But honestly I’m mostly a hobby shooter, and really not even that. I’m a hobby shooter without a shtick – I don’t do flowers like my wife’s father did, or birds like my electrician. I shoot what Dave’s mother once described as, “Promiscuously.” I may have reoccurring themes, such as the hero shot, or the extending foreground shot, or the multiselfie. If there’s anything across the board to identify my stuff, it’s the high contrast I add in post and my incredulous use of vignetting.

What I shoot are random moments. They’re not stories because nobody cares. They’re not scenes because those are snippets from a story. It’s a moment that has horizontal and vertical thirds, if I’m lucky subjects have their eyes open, or not, it’s in focus, isn’t over or under exposed, and it’s shot within 1000 Kelven of the actual light. Shooting for print work as I do, I also try to lean toward text-friendly negative space.

Landing in Pamplona I had no agenda. And every foot I walked further into San Fermin stripped me of what I thought I knew. I was a Rumsfeld joke who didn’t know what he didn’t know he didn’t know. I recognized little from when I was there last. Dave was doing just fine navigating us around with his phone, which freed me up to go in to – what Dave would explain to me later – my Nothing Box.

I have a couple of images posted from that first night, but going through the RAW files, I’m looking at absolute shuttershit. Dave I think tried coming to my defense telling me he had my camera for a while. But I can tell the shots he took because I’m in them. That first day and up till my subnap the next, I don’t know what the hell I was doing. I can’t blame the sangria, because some of the best shots I’ve ever taken I don’t remember taking at all.

Having been shooting in Madrid and Paris I’d grown used to radically changing light conditions, between shadows and different color temperatures reflecting off stone streets and buildings. Were the cities of Europe to adopt a color, it would be a Crayon called 2,000K. But those first night’s RAW files are completely out of control, saturated in Pumpkin K, blurry, boring, and worse.

Maybe I was tired. Maybe I didn’t care to such a degree that I rebelled against that camera, and though letting it fire away, I crippled it, sabotaged it again and again so as not to be responsible for capturing something I didn’t understand. Looking at the RAW files the moments are suddenly images dripping in passive aggressive torpedoing hate. This was writer’s block with a camera.

Up to that point I’d been on vacation, shooting my wife and playing grab ass and wandering around. Now here without her I was just some idiot with an expensive toy maybe I shouldn’t have been carrying around. I was having such a great time with Dave who I get to see maybe once a year that I just went off the rails.

I don’t think moments appreciate being sabotaged. And now I have a few hundred Pamplona moments saying, “Hey, what about us?” 200:9,800. I have many more saying, “Hey, what’s up with this white balance?” 3,000:7,000. There’s the, “Are you even watching the ISO?” crowd. 4,000:6,000. Awesome, a whole, “What the hell are you even looking at?” crowd. 8,700:230. And in the din, I have pretty much all of them screaming, “What the hell is so special about that guy?!” 9,999:1.

Pushed up against mob rule I want to yell back, “Because he has a goddam story!!!”

He has a goddam story. That picture has something to say, and I don’t know how to handle it.

###

Last week I was having drinks with a guy, an architect. I don’t remember what prompted it, but he said something to the effect that up to a certain year, he hated his own work. I knew what he was talking about. For years I had a lot of my travel stuff up on the walls, and I grew to hate it. My wife has a few shots scattered around the house in unnoticeable corners, but 90% of it is in big envelopes that could disappear tomorrow and I wouldn’t care. The architect? Whatever he doesn’t like is all over Seattle, screaming at him as he drives by. I suppose they exchange “screw you’s” as they pass.

On the one hand, he had bad relationships with projects he’d done for clients. On the other hand, I don’t really get along with moments I shoot when left to my own devices. I love the work I do for clients far more then anything I do on my own. That’s bothered me.

But this image came jumping out of my camera, at first catching my attention because of its technical success, but growing more and more into a story every time I look at it, and I’m fighting it. I may cut back on the vignetting. I may monkey a bit more with the contrast. But it’s speaking to me. And it’s going to go up on a wall.

I wish I knew who shot it, me, or the guy with the camera.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Click here to login or join.