What I Found in the Back Alley
I recently gave an Ignite Presentation at Relish Gastropub in Vancouver. The theme was "Ignite your Passion for Discovery" and it was hosted by Dean Shareski, the community manager for Discovery Education Canada.
I decided to present on "The Art of Wandering." The purpose of the presentation was to provoke some thinking about the way we learn, and to push those who insist on the straight and narrow. You see, I believe some of the best learning happens when you stray from the usual path. When you take the path that meanders, you find things you did not expect. Opportunities suddenly present themselves. There are untold possibilities to consider, and challenges to overcome. What is more, when you wander, you cover more ground, and you get to know a place (or thing) in a way that straight lines don't afford.
The photograph above was taken from the slide deck of my Ignite presentation. It serves as a sort of metaphor for what we can learn when we venture into unusual places. Back alleys and corridors fascinate me. I find something strangely compelling about the dark and mysterious passageways that lurk inside a city. My affection for these places is evidenced by the many hours I spend photographing them.
Like most people, I have taken pictures of sunsets and swans and captured the colours of autumn leaves. I have photographed birthday parties and special events. But if truth be told, I prefer the grittiness of photos like the one above.
It would be hard, I suppose, to describe the photograph as beautiful. Its subject matter is garbage and graffiti and pavement. And yet, is there not something beautiful about it?
The scene is bleak and isolated. There are no colours. No flowers. Yet, I find that this stark quality is what makes it resonate. We live in a world where image is almost everything, and finding something truly authentic is increasingly difficult.
Most things exist behind layers: layers of packaging or polish or paint. The same can be said of people. But in these places, there is no veneer. What you see is raw. It is real. And if you find this image does leave you with a certain lingering impression, perhaps this is the reason why.
But this particular photograph, for me, is still more. It is not merely the contents we ought to consider. A great photograph depends on a conspiracy of conditions that must work together to allow for something singular and unique. And the joy of wandering with a camera is that you have the possibility of finding and capturing such a scene, sort of like trapping lightning in a bottle.
So in answer to answer the question, what can you possibly find of value in a place like this? Let me say this:
When the the universe affords you a combination of light and shadow such that the puddles reflect the glare of an overhead lamp shining in the distance, and the pavement shimmers like glass between old brick buildings, and the garbage bins stand battered but steadfast like sentinels in the rain, well, you can find your Zen - right there in an alleyway.
And the art of wandering, though it might seem aimless, regularly leads to the joy of discovery.