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November 2019
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Iconic, originally uploaded by elefanterosado.

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook. He was a a 1970s rebel rouser, now in his mid 50s. He got picked on and abused by the police. He’s been posting a lot of old film shots–scanned, of course–from the 1970s. Several of his friends liked to document his exploits, and they were good amateur photographers.

The point is: this is one of those Life Magazine cover shots. It doesn’t need any words to go along with it. It tells the full story, as any outstanding photograph should.

As a writer, I’ve been struggling with photography, with producing images I relate to, that I can connect with. That other people can relate to. For me, playing with words is second nature. Playing with images is not. But I am gifted with a good eye, so I know a great thing when I see it.

When I saw this picture–washed out and old with color fading–I knew I’d seen my interpretation of photographic perfection. I love everything about this shot. I love the young, skinny man with the blown-out left knee space on his blue jeans pants leg, and that brief expanse of long-laced brown boot on his right leg. His dead-center 1970’s part, long, thick dark hair and trance-like expression. The Texas oil driller’s-style class ring on his right hand, and the curved frames of the specs he’s holding.

I think I see an old turntable on the bookshelf to the right of the frame too. Even that jacket or blanket or whatever it is bunched up in the near right center frame is vintage 1970’s–butterscotch yellow and brown.

And then there are the stars and stripes of the American flag that form his backrest, with just a hint of the McGovern sign above it. Those things paint the era with beautiful, broad strokes.

These little details are simple genius.

I don’t know the subject of this shot personally. Only by our long, enjoyable and hilarious exchanges on Facebook. And he is a good writer. So when he describes his misspent youth from this bygone era, I can picture it. And when I look at this picture, I see something else: everything I aspire to be as a photographer.

That is, I want to tell a story accompanied by a powerful image. An image so deceptively simple yet powerfully evocative that it fills up all the space in the frame, and beyond.

There’s only one thing I don’t like about this photo.

And that’s that I didn’t take it myself.

(**Photo courtesy of Craig Ayres-Sevier. May not be reproduced in any form without prior permission.)