Street Photography in Jerusalem

I have always wanted to take interesting photos of people, photos which are unstaged, capturing a moment, a tiny drama of everyday life. I’ve not been good at this. I’m afraid that I’m invading peoples’ privacy, that they will feel I’m stealing something from them.

I’ve learned that these two fears may be true, but only if I, as the photographer, am outside the picture. That’s the key to good street photography; being part of the street.

We practise this idea for a while. The wide street is car-free, but serviced by a tram running down it’s centre.

‘Look’, says Ouria, the local photographer who is taking me on this street photography session, ‘See that man in the hat, waiting at the tram stop on the other side? He’s playing the accordion. Wait for the next tram. Take a photo of him through the tram.’

Seconds later a tram eases to a holt. I stand by the window and raise my camera, trying to ignore the passengers alighting. I feel odd but the effect is interesting. Not only have I captured a glimpse of the accordion player, but I’m in the picture too.

We head into the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Mea Shearim.

‘I don’t know why but I’m nervous about this’, I say to Ouria. ‘It doesn’t seem fair somehow. Won’t the people mind?’

He laughs a little. ‘They will know we are not of the community, but we look more or less like people around here, with your long black skirt and elbow length shirt and with my beard and slightly religious-looked (softly peaked) cap. They will notice and then they will not notice. We will not blend in but they will not think about us for too long. They will not worry about it. Some might cover their faces and one or two might say something. But we are not hurting them’.

‘And they will not hurt us?’ I am surprised by my question; I’m not in the habit of thinking that people are a danger to me. I remembered Jewish friends on the dig at Beth Saida who described having stones thrown at their car for driving into Old Jerusalem on the Sabbath.

‘No, they will not hurt us’.

The narrow street was lined with sandstone buildings, the windows protected by ornate iron work. Tangled in the ironwork of one such window we find a sleepy cat and I take a photo of its pink upturned feet. It feels braver than trying to take photos of people.

But turning down another street suddenly there is a throng of men, bearded, ear-locked, black coated. They come singly and then in pairs, hurrying down the street towards the Western Wall.

‘Stand here, in the middle of the street. Create your frame. Raise your camera and take the picture’.

I can’t.

The uncertainty and doubt is back. These are just men walking down the street, minding their own business. Suddenly they come upon two photographers aiming cameras at them. Do they want their photos taken? Do they mind?

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? I’m not leaping out from behind a pole to snatch away their right to walk down the street in peace. I’m right here, in full view, in the middle of the road between stationery cars, just another part of the streetscape.

Photographers talk about making pictures rather than taking them. I like this notion. Not only does it make me feel better about taking photos of total strangers, but it makes me feel as if I am creating something, there is an important point to what I am doing. I’m part of it now.

Cars begin to come to a standstill in the little street, blocked by some unseen obstacle over the hill.

‘Oh well, this is not good for us’, I say to Ouria.

‘No, this is very good for us. Now they are concentrating on the traffic jam. They are not worried about what we are doing’.

I take a breath and step back into the street, raise my camera and press the shutter release with a click that I’m certain sounds like a clanging cymbal. Nobody takes a blind bit of notice.

We make pictures, the men and me. They float past, a mass of flapping black coats and swinging ear locks, eyes fixed ahead. They don’t care about me. They barely look in my direction. They are focussed only on where they are headed.

We think we are so important in others’ lives. But in general, in the minutiae of their daily lives, people are actually much more concerned with their own business to take much notice of what is going on around them. Together, the men and I have captured their moment of determination, their desire to reach their destination.

For me, this is the appeal of street photography, of making pictures of complete strangers. It’s stopping to experience a tiny insight into another person’s life. We see people rushing about through their day, as we rush through ours. We don’t stop to think about who they are or where they are going.

But a photograph makes you stop, if you choose to. Stop and look. Wonder, question, interpret.

We turn and head down the hill, in the direction the men have gone. The streets are hot and seemingly empty. We find a shady tree on a corner next to a tiny garden fenced in with an ornate ironwork fence. The uprights form a perfect frame. I compose my picture, check my exposure and settle down to wait.

Ouria advises me to be part of the streetscape. ‘Raise your camera and survey the scene through your viewfinder. Keep pressing the shutter release. The clicks will become part of the sounds of the street’.

People walk past, framing themselves in the fence. One man, black-coat tight across his stomach and frothy white beard beneath his big-hat, stood for some minutes staring up at something on the wall out of our line of vision. I pressed the shutter release and he turned, looking directly into my lens.

Instead of jumping back guiltily, I kept the camera to my eye, looking at him looking at me. I was completely in the moment.

Me and the camera and the man. All of us creating the story of that moment in the street.

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baking goods
grief, Objects

Crying for Baking Goods

The door of Unit B104 jams about a foot off the ground and I give a series of short tugs until it gives way and suddenly slides all the way up, revealing a small room stuffed with things, mine and my parents’ (which are mine too, now). 

B104 is not my first storage unit, nor my only one. I have another, several suburbs away, which houses bigger furniture I couldn’t bear to part with when we prepared the house for sale – four dining chairs from Scotland, the writing desk made by my great uncle, the Axminster carpet my parents bought with wedding present money, my Scottish grandmother’s kist, Mum’s Magic Maid, my uncle’s wardrobe, my Australian grandmother’s rocking chair with the embroidered seat, the wooden baby high-chairs my Dad made. 

What else could I do with them?

I hold my mother’s baking trays and cake tins and search for places to slip them between the mass of book cartons, reflex paper boxes, see-through plastic tubs, shipping trunks. The trays feel slightly greasy and I tell myself I’ll use them one day, when I have a place with an oven.

For years they lived in the pantry under the stairs – which we called the Cave – along with my mother’s pots and pans, orange plastic scales, Breville mix master and electric fry pan.

When Mum moved permanently into care, my brother suggested we start to clear out the Cave and dispose of perishable foods that would never now be used. Mum hadn’t baked for over a year since my father went into care and there were inedible, out-of-date packets of dried fruits, currants and glace cherries, dessicated coconut, slivered almonds and it hadn’t seemed so hard because she was still alive then.

After Mum died I cried for the ingredients we had put out months before. I wanted more than anything to see the big green plastic bins where she kept rice and flour and sugar, now in the op shop. I wanted little bags of crystalised sultanas and weevily flour and softening brazil nuts.

After she died, I wanted everything back.


Crying for baking goods.

Feature Image by Filmbetrachter from Pixabay

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The Old Holden

‘Can you please sell Dad’s car so I can get my ute in the garage?’

My stomach dropped. A text message from my brother. We’d been talking about selling the house and he wanted to come back and get started.

I know things don’t have feelings, but I have feelings about things.

Years ago, when my ancient olive-coloured hatchback no longer ran, some boys gave me $50 to take it away.  I took some photos as it sat in the street before they came and later I showed these photos to Dad. He grinned and said, ‘Oh you sentimental old thing’.

I stared at the text message and swallowed hard.

Nobody is interested in Dad’s car as a going concern. It’s too old to be refurbished and not old enough to be considered vintage. Ibrahim’s Scrap Metal will give me $200 to take Dad’s car away at midday on the following Monday.

I sat in the old Holden, hands around a cup of coffee. The car had to go. I knew that. It didn’t run well. It had been sitting there in the garage for nearly a year flattening the battery so it didn’t run at all now. I had taken the floor mats out and put them in my new hatchback. I prised the Holden lion badge off and the word ‘Holden’ and the number plates. It felt like a violation but I wanted them.

Insert Image

What would Dad think of me now? Sitting blubbing in his car? Still a sentimental old thing. But it was time to let the Holden go. I knew that.

On Monday no one came and at about three o’clock I rang Ibrahim who told me the fella would be there but as I had to go out I said ‘No worries, let’s make it tomorrow if that’s ok. But it really has to be before noon because I must go out at twelve’.

Noon the following day rolled around and still no one came. At about four-fifteen I rang and asked if they were coming and Ibrahim said, ‘Oh yes, I think he forgot. Oh, he collected two cars from Sunshine…’ and I suppose that meant he didn’t have room for the Holden.

Ibrahim said he’d be around between seven and eight that evening but I said that was a bit late for me and could we make it Wednesday, but it had to be in the morning.

Jorge turned up just before noon the next day. He couldn’t get his lorry up the driveway so he brought up his spare battery to recharge the battery in the Holden. We discovered Jorge’s battery was flat too. Then he asked me to move my car so he could jump start the Holden from my battery, but we realised the batteries are on the opposite sides of each engine and his jumper leads wouldn’t reach.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

He released the Holden’s handbrake and we pushed the big car out of the garage and down the driveway a little. Now we could manoeuvre the cars together and the Holden’s motor roared into life.

Jorge drove Dad’s car onto the back of the truck and headed down the driveway. I stood watching, pushing my fingernails into the palms of my hands. As he reached the end of the driveway I ran down to the street, the wind cool on my wet face, and we waved goodbye.

I swept the leaves out of the garage. It looked rather bare with just my little car.

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animals, grief, Uncategorized

The Buddies

On the paved area outside the Van I put my folding chair and the little lemon tree I’ve brought with me. On Dad’s birthday, days before I left their house forever, a professional gardener helped me take six grafts from Dad’s lemon tree and from the smaller lime tree Dad had himself grafted years ago, onto a lemon tree root stock. Four of them survived. I think Dad would be pleased that I have a next generation lemon and lime tree, but he’d think I was mad to take it in the Van.

Hanging in the old lemon tree at Mum and Dad’s was a bird feeding tray that we used for years to gain the trust of a couple of lorikeets. They became so tame we could stand quite near the dish while they ate. One of them would also eat from my flattened palm, one claw on a branch, one on my finger. Sometimes they walked up and down on the exterior kitchen windowsill or sat on the door handle. They were so comical. I loved them. Apparently they mate for life. We called them the ‘Buddies’.

One morning in the January after Mum died I heard a crash. I rushed out of my room and looked down over the balcony. A Buddy was lying on the paving outside the kitchen.

‘Oh no no no’, I raced down and threw open the door. The little bird was lying motionless on its back.

Gasping, I bent down for a closer look. Not one of the Buddies….

I rang my brother and as soon as he answered I blurted,

‘Uh uh…it’s a Buddy…there’s something wrong…’ I can barely speak. My throat has seized up.

‘The dunny? There’s something wrong with the dunny?’

‘A Buddy!’ I squeak.

‘The study?’

‘One of the Buddies! He’s lying on the ground! He’s not moving.’ I’m frantic.

‘Ok, ok. I see. He’s just lying there is he?’

‘Yesssss….Just not moving… what if he’s de….’

‘Ok, look. He might just be stunned. They hit the glass hard, but then they suddenly recover. They can be pretty resilient’.

‘Oh’, I gulp, ‘What should I do?’

‘He’ll probably just jump up and fly off in a moment’.

‘Ok’. I calm down a little. We finish the call.

I get a towel and approach the bird, picking up the still little body in the towel and laying him near the door. I look at him for a while then go back inside.

Suddenly I see a movement out of the corner of my eye. The little bird has leapt out of the towel and is staggering like a drunk across the paving. He gives himself a shake, straightens up and suddenly takes off. I burst into tears. Relief washes over me.

Something hasn’t died.

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animals, dementia, life well lived

Hayley is Bernese Mountain Dog

You can imagine her galloping through lush green pastures dotted with wild flowers, pulling a small cart filled with canisters of warm, full-fat milk for jolly, smiling, be-pig-tailed children to gulp down before grabbing their satchels and heading across the alps to school.

Or something like that.

She’s a beautiful, big, furry dog; more of a rug than a dog. She is very nice to hug. It is very nice to hug a big furry, rug-like dog. Very therapeutic and with that in mind, today I took Hayley to visit Dad, who has moderate dementia and living in a wonderful homely place where he has good care and lots of friends. 

Dad was looking at a pamphlet, a something about an Indian music festival. He’s never had any interest in Indian music, but with his illness, all sorts of things now take his fancy.

The sudden appearance of an enormous hound of the mountains did not deter him from his perusal of said pamphlet and I spent quite a bit of time during our visit patting Hayley myself.

Dad isn’t great at conversation. He’s lost quite a bit of that part of the brain which enables him to understand what people are saying to him and to find the words to respond. At least, that seems to be what’s happening. He speaks using real words, all the nouns and verbs are in the right places, it’s not gobbledy gook. It just doesn’t make sense in the context of the conversation.

That doesn’t mean we don’t communicate. It’s just different now.

We communicate through experience. Going for a walk, looking at the leaves changing colours, watching some construction workers, smiling at babies in prams, folding napkins, and yes, patting dogs.

Dad finished with his pamphlet and handed to me. He suddenly seemed to notice that the big furry rug at his feet was moving, apparently standing up and ramming its head into his lap.

“Oh, yes I see you, I see you” Dad said as he stroked her broad head, fringed with silky tufts. He chuckled softly.

Dad loves dogs. He always has, but now he has a different kind of affinity with them. Small children too. Neither dogs nor small children are bothered by Dad’s odd sentences. His inability to communicate verbally doesn’t trouble them. They’re all quite content just to be together.

Hayley makes me happy too. I’m just taking care of her for a few weeks and it will be sad to say goodbye. I shall miss the morning hugs only a big furry rug-like dog can give.

Written July 2016
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