30 Days of Photographs II: Our Favorites

One of the nice things about a friendly non-competition like the 30 Days of Photographs II meme is that there are no losers.

Of course, there are no winners, either. Nobody wins a prize, nobody gets a trophy, medal or ribbon. The entire experience is marked with a taint of mediocrity that renders it meaningless. It is, to quote the French philosopher and mime Jean-Paul Sartre, the very definition of “existence without essence.”

But what do the French know? Take away pastry and the ménage à trois, and they haven’t contributed anything meaningful to society since the Benedictine monks invented champagne in early 1500s. They’re just a bunch of cheese-loving socialists with silly accents.

So Ziva and I decided to ignore the existential vacuum we created with 30 Days of Photographs II and work together to pick some of the pictures we believe are award-worthy. It was easy, too. We agreed in almost every case, and when we didn’t, we argued bitterly until one of us shrugged and shouted, “Fine! I don’t care! Do what you want!”

It felt like being married, except that it’s hard to throw crockery via email.

Ziva and I divided the list of fools participants in half, and you can find her share of the list over at her place. My list starts with Nicky, of the Awkward Banana.

Nicky’s an interesting woman—intelligent and notoriously taciturn, with a cultivated bad-girl image enhanced by tattoos and high-heel shoes. So it wasn’t a surprise when she posted eye-catching photos of an artfully blank crossword puzzle and not one, but two pairs of her favorite stilettos, comparing herself to the on-screen vixen Kathleen Turner in the process.

But our favorite photo broke form, showing a post-shower Nicky in her bathrobe without makeup, her hair a wet mess, sharing an affectionate kiss with her youngest son. It is a highly personal, revealing photo. It’s also courageous. How many women do you know who are willing to have their photo taken, let alone without their “faces” on?

Pretty sweet for a woman who claims to be a tough girl, eh?

Which brings me to Meleah, my longtime blogging buddy turned serious novelist. Yeah, you heard that right, she’s a writer. But you don’t have to believe me. Just wait until you read the 10,000 words she recently sent me and you can feel the magic in her lines for yourself.

Visually, Meleah wowed us with her photos for Lines, and for Wood, which also contained a lot of lines. But the one picture that surprised us and remains stuck in our memories is the beautifully lit and composed self-portrait she posted for Waiting. Meleah’s very open about her health problems, and she spends a lot of time waiting around in hospitals for test results. I don’t know if this photo was meant to reflect those trials, but while she looks lovely in the photo, she also appears nervous, her forehead creased with worry lines.

What are those big, brown eyes waiting for and worrying about, I wonder?

The only thing that seemed to worry the next person on my list, Bryan, was finding photographs to fit the memes. By his own admission, he didn’t prepare in advance, winging it day-by-day instead.

Fortunately, Bryan didn’t seem to suffer at all, perhaps he’s a former reporter who’s used to working under pressure, and also one of the best-read, most-thoughtful people I know. Ziva and I liked his moody, screened photo for Outlier and his watery study in blue for Fish Tales, but agreed that his photo of a blood-red, fiery shot of a cocktail for Fire was well-composed, arrestingly lit and extremely clever.

It may be the Devil's drink, but it looks so delicious, I think I'll have one, thank you very much.

Speaking of booze, I can’t think of anybody I’d rather raise a glass with than my good friend, Malisa.

Malisa’s a former school principle and a true artist. Dripping with creativity, she does everything with high style, and runs a professional portrait business called Pent-Up Photos, which sounds like a good name for a porn studio, but isn’t.

I think.

Actually, I’m not sure. There may be more to Malisa than meets the eye.

What I am sure about is that Ziva and I felt her photo of a leggy coed sitting precociously on a giant class ring—I feel there’s a joke in there somewhere that I’m missing—is terrific even though it was an outtake from the 30 Days of Photographs II non-competition. So is her photo for Nude, an irresistibly cute, old-fashioned, newspaper-style shot of one of her grandsons standing with his bare back to the camera, his presumably bare derrière appropriately hidden by a hat.

But her best photo, and one of the most memorable photos of the entire event, was the picture she posted for the extremely interesting theme of Outlier. It is both delightful and macabre all at once—a pleasant, black-and-white snapshot of her adorable, smiling grandchildren standing with her husband, Lurch, who is dressed like a little boy in shorts but is so big and tall compared to the kids that his head’s out of the frame.

Which one is not like the others? Malisa made it easy for us.

It just doesn’t get better than Malisa’s photo, not even if you love cats, which my new friend Nora clearly does.

Nora posted 30 days of cat photos, sending me into an apoplectic fit that will take another 30 days to dissipate. But even I, an avowed cat-hating curmudgeon, have to admit that she pulled it off. The photo of a cat staring through a telescope that she posted for The Experiment is hilarious, and her picture for From An Ant’s Perspective is not only a vertigo-inducing long gaze up at a cat, but hard to ignore, one of the hallmarks of a good picture whether or not you like the subject.

But Ziva and I agreed that Nora’s most-memorable photo was her wonderfully simple, majestic silhouette of a black cat, which probably has a name, but I have trouble remembering cat’s names.

Maybe this portrait of a cat could have been a smidgeon better, but I don't think so. It's pretty grand, even regal.

 

My old friend Liz took simple to new heights for the meme, often snapping anything that caught her eye whether or not it fit the day’s category. Liz is always herself, rules be damned, and I like her that way.

Ziva and I liked the minimalist beauty of her new tan lines, which she photographed for Lines. (Although I confess I nearly went blind trying to figure out what part of her I was looking at.) We also liked her photo of a photo of a centerfold’s bare bottom for Moon because it was a funny idea and, well, who doesn’t like looking at a nice tush once in a while? Or even daily?

But it was Liz’s self-portrait for Portrait that stood out in our minds, partly because her new hair color is awesome, but also because she looks cute, playful and happy, and the photograph brought a smile to our faces.

I know, right?

Double-O has brought smiles to our faces for years with her easy-going, Canuck-gone-Bahamian outlook on life, and it was great fun to have her join the fun for 30 Days of Photographs II. I liked her photo of a half-peeled banana because it reminded me of me, but Ziva insisted that narcissism was not a criterion in judging, so I reluctantly abandoned it.

In our better judgment, then, two of her best photos were the abstract, minimalist shots she took for Crowd and Waiting—the latter shot powerfully sad. But we both loved her shadowy shot of sand falling through an hourglass because it captured the day’s theme of Time with moody perfection.

Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

Perfection is something that’s eluded our new friend Kristen, the dedicated and loving yet drained mother of a son, Alexander, who lives with a challenging diagnosis of Wolf Hirschhorn Syndrome. She took some amazing photos of her children, including an overhead shot of the kids lying in the grass happily holding hands for Power and, for Waiting, a bittersweet, compelling photo of Alexander fast asleep face down on a table after exhausting himself fighting to keep his head upright.

But Ziva and I agreed Kristen’s most compelling photo was the exceptionally dark, blurry self-portrait she took for Stranger. It’s a chilling picture, frankly. One that anybody who is self- reflective can relate to because we are all frightening strangers to ourselves in one way or another. She was just brave enough to admit it publicly, through her photography.

It's a frightening yet compellingly honest self-portrait that captures the scary stranger hiding in the shadows -- and inside each of us.

Speaking of honest photography, you might be wondering what I think about the work of my co-host for 30 Days of Photographs II, Ziva. But even if you aren’t wondering, I’m going to tell you anyway.

In short, I believe Ziva’s a gifted photographer. The sort of photographer who knows just where to put the camera and when to press the shutter. The sort of photographer who studies her subjects carefully and then uses her equipment to capture their essence. The sort of photographer who makes me insanely jealous because she’s infinitely more talented than I am. And while there were lots of good pictures taken during 30 Days of Photographs II, I believe Ziva captured three of the best.

In fact, I had an extremely hard time choosing three favorites from the ones she posted. But one that leapt to mind was her photograph of a handsome musician named Andréas she took for Portrait. It’s perfectly composed and intriguingly lit in red. But what makes the photo so memorable for me is that I feel I know something about this young man just by looking a single picture of him. He’s clearly artistic and tired—perhaps a little drunk, too—but standing in an environment where he feels like he’s king. The picture conveys a lot of feeling, and that’s hard to do in pictures.

Ziva perfectly described the tired yet proud and confident essence of this young Finnish musician with a single shot. The severe angle, monochromatic tint and backlighting lend so much nobility to the picture, we could be looking at a prince -- and indeed, he is a prince among his fellow musicians.

My second favorite photo was the moody black and white Ziva took for Waiting. It’s of a solitary man reading a book at night while waiting for a bus. This photograph is not only wonderfully composed, well-lit and sharp—things that are almost impossible to do at night—it also conveys range of emotions that include loneliness and boredom. How Ziva depressed the shutter at just the right moment and caught his head at the ideal angle is a wonder to me.

Who can't relate the ennui and loneliness of waiting for the bus at night, your only companions the dim street lights and a book?

My top favorite, however, was of a tired, somewhat besotted man sitting at a table in a crowded bar, which Ziva posted for Stranger. This isn’t merely one of the best photos of this non-competition, it’s one of the best photos I’ve seen anywhere, and I’ve worked with professional photographers my entire life. For starters, it’s beautifully lit—no small technical feat considering the lighting in most bars, and one requiring an incredibly steady hand. Better yet, everything about the picture tells a story. The man’s alone, he’s quaffed most of his beer, and now he’s so weary that he’s fallen asleep, oblivious to the world around him that’s buzzing with the faded images of happy ghosts. This is the sort of photograph that wins awards, and makes careers.

The perfection of this photo takes my breath away. I'm awed by the story of this sleeping man, his beer nearly gone, oblivious to the animation of the happy people around him.

So kudos to Ziva, and to everybody who was brave or stupid enough to join the 30 Days of Photographs II meme.

But I still believe meme is a dumb word.

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