As of late, I've found myself made somewhat uncomfortable by the presence of large crowds. It's not that I have a fear of crowds, or some sort of claustrophobia. Rather, I find myself unable to process the visual buffet happening all around me. My mind wanders in a peculiar manner, constantly scanning the horizon for a potential good shot. Even if my camera isn't with me, I keep a constat eye out for good lighting, or a perfectly composed scene. With my new Pentax K-5's extended ISO capabilities, a whole slew of new low-light opportunities have opened up to me, allowing me even greater freedom while shooting street photos. Why, then, would I be unsettled by the abundance of crowds?
Maybe it's the chaos. With random bursts of light illuminating San Diego's Christmas on the Prado in historic Balboa Park, well over a hundred thousand people crowded into tight corridors to experience a single snippet of time. Walking around was a chore, and it became nearly impossible to find a place to stop and rest as the night went on. With vendors flanking the walkways, and long lines forming to enter the many museums, all I could think of was photographing the people around me. So many faces, yet so little time.
Some faces were familiar. The street vendor here, a cheerful man with a kind face, was a pleasant surprise. Only a couple of months prior, I had purchased a journal made out of homemade Nepalese paper from him at a swap-meet-style event at my school. Glad to see him and his wares once again, I made sure to stock up on goods made out of this beautiful paper, never sure when I might stumble upon him once more.
For the most part, everyone at this hectic event seemed to be in a similar state of slightly overwhelmed confusion, though most individuals tried to persevere. In such a maze of constant motion, it can be near impossible to stop and smell the roses. To make matters worse, the only roses to be found were wooden ones, sold in bundles at a popular corner stall. Though they looked beautiful and almost real, that last element of life and authenticity was missing. I worked hard to restrain myself from purchasing a bundle of these wooden roses, and I ultimately left the park with a surprisingly minimal amount of unnecessary purchases.
While a crowd might provide for an abundance of photo opportunities, raw human interaction can often be lost in the process. Just over a year ago, the only thing I wanted to do was move to a big city. The dream and allure of a city that never sleeps, and of the crowded existence of urban life, seemed to be such a beautiful and poetic fantasy. But I've since learned of the beauty of solitude and space, and while that wont stop me from going out in the crowd, there's a good chance I'll always return to a more natural state of human life when all is said and done.