In the Shadows

Finding patterns in my picture-taking


In grad school, I did a research project for an independent-film course in which I surveyed the work of Jim Jarmusch. In preparation for it, I watched all of his movies, and one thing I noticed was the repetition of certain visual patterns: in most, for instance, there existed a sequence in which the protagonist, along for a ride of some sort, would happen to glance offscreen to the right, we’d cut to her point of view, and then for a few moments, we’d watch through her eyes as ordinary buildings, houses (Night on Earth, others) or trees (Dead Man) went by, until finally returning to the character’s expressionless reaction. It wasn’t the kind of thing that necessarily meant all that much, but all the same, patterns are patterns, and it’s sometimes the ones that seem most trivial on the surface that lead to the most interesting conversations.

I’m not going to compare myself to Jim Jarmusch, of course. But given the number of pictures I’ve taken over the years, I figured there had to be at least some of this kind of repetition in my own work as well. So when my wife (with a bit of an eye roll) mentioned she’d noticed a few when assembling a photobook recently, I did a little scrolling through Lightroom. Turns out I do seem to take the same handful of pictures over and over — one of which is of my own (and sometimes other people’s) shadows.

Whether there’s any significance to that, I’ll leave you to decide. What I can say is that I tend to snap these kinds of pictures when I’m happy, when the light’s a bit unusual, and when the shadow happens to hop in front of me, catching me by surprise. There’s probably also something to the way that shadows or silhouettes suggest, in their abstractness, rather than spell out: whereas photography is so often about capturing and representing reality with accuracy and completeness, the shadow sort of pushes in the opposite direction, asking the viewer to fill in the gaps, as it were, with a little imagination. And also, they’re sometimes just funny.

You might also note the additional shadows that show up alongside me over the years, which tells a little story of its own.

Somewhere in Southern California on my way to have dinner with my sister. This was taken with one of a number of flip-phones I carried between 2005 and 2007 (way before Instagram) that I used to snap photos and send them to my website. October 30, 2005

Somewhere in Southern California on my way to have dinner with my sister. This was taken with one of a number of flip-phones I carried between 2005 and 2007 (way before Instagram) that I used to snap photos and send them to my website.

In Napa with some friends and Rebecca, our first trip together. Here, I'm joining the crowd at one of many winery tours we'd take that weekend. February 24, 2006 Canon PowerShot A95 • ISO 50 • f2.8 • 1/800 sec • 7.8 mm

In Napa with some friends and Rebecca, our first trip together. Here, I’m joining the crowd at one of many winery tours we’d take that weekend.

Returning to work with takeout, apparently. March 15, 2006

Returning to work with takeout, apparently.

One month later, at 6:30 AM. I've no idea what I was doing in LA so early in the morning. June 15, 2006

One month later, at 6:30 AM. I’ve no idea what I was doing in LA so early in the morning.

In the backyard of my little house in Fullerton, not long after upgrading to a [Sony-Ericsson K790A](https://www.cnet.com/products/sony-ericsson-k790a-unlocked/review/), which remains my all-time favorite camera-that's-also-a-phone. I like the way the angle and the shoes in this one conspire to make me look a bit like a hipster munchkin. May 25, 2007 Sony Ericsson K790a • ISO 80 • f2.8 • 1/800 sec

In the backyard of my little house in Fullerton, not long after upgrading to a Sony-Ericsson K790A, which remains my all-time favorite camera-that’s-also-a-phone. I like the way the angle and the shoes in this one conspire to make me look a bit like a hipster munchkin.

Out for a morning walk around the neighborhood with Rebecca and Lola. April 14, 2008 Sony Ericsson K790a • ISO 80 • f2.8 • 1/800 sec

Out for a morning walk around the neighborhood with Rebecca and Lola.

Somewhere in Seattle. June 25, 2008 Sony Ericsson K790a • ISO 80 • f2.8 • 1/320 sec

Somewhere in Seattle.

At the [Ballard Locks](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballard_Locks), just before a screening of a little movie about their history and construction. (I can't seem to locate that particular film on YouTube, but there are several others worth watching if you're interested in this rather fascinating story, including [this one](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHFiKKaCKl8), which is an hour long, and awesome.) July 4, 2008 Sony Ericsson K790a • ISO 200 • f2.8 • 1/8 sec

At the Ballard Locks, just before a screening of a little movie about their history and construction. (I can’t seem to locate that particular film on YouTube, but there are several others worth watching if you’re interested in this rather fascinating story, including this one, which is an hour long, and awesome.)

The bean, prancing happily in her winter coat. January 19, 2009 Sony Ericsson K790a • ISO 80 • f2.8 • 1/250 sec

The bean, prancing happily in her winter coat.

The wife and me in Kirkland just before meeting some friends for dinner. February 14, 2009 Sony Ericsson K790a • ISO 80 • f2.8 • 1/640 sec

The wife and me in Kirkland just before meeting some friends for dinner.

May 29, 2009 Samsung SGH-T929 • ISO 180 • f2.6 • 1/8000 sec • 5.7 mm
June 9, 2009 Samsung SGH-T929 • ISO 410 • f2.6 • 1/2000 sec • 5.7 mm
December 26, 2009 Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XSi • ISO 100 • f3.5 • 1/500 sec • 18.0 mm
Shouldering an early Oliver. July 15, 2010 Samsung SGH-T929 • ISO 200 • f2.6 • 1/1000 sec • 5.7 mm

Shouldering an early Oliver.

October 9, 2012 Apple iPhone 4 • ISO 80 • f2.8 • 1/400 sec • 3.9 mm
July 6, 2013 Apple iPhone 4 • ISO 80 • f2.8 • 1/1600 sec • 3.9 mm
May 13, 2014 Canon EOS 70D • ISO 100 • f9.1 • 1/320 sec • 18.0 mm

Walking with the Neen.

Getting pulled through a morning walk on Rebecca's parents' farm outside Cincinnati, Ohio. January 15, 2015 Canon EOS 70D • ISO 100 • f4.5 • 1/1250 sec • 18.0 mm

Getting pulled through a morning walk on Rebecca’s parents’ farm outside Cincinnati, Ohio.

At the Grand Canyon, one of several stops on our great cross-country road trip westward and up through California. March 25, 2015 Apple iPhone 5s • ISO 32 • f2.2 • 1/1000 sec • 4.2 mm

At the Grand Canyon, one of several stops on our great cross-country road trip westward and up through California.

Canyon day-planning with Rebecca. March 25, 2015 Apple iPhone 5s • ISO 32 • f2.2 • 1/1500 sec • 4.2 mm

Canyon day-planning with Rebecca.

Wandering around [ChefConf 2015](https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL11cZfNdwNyO9CpTWH2qjYfzysEtpfOCd) in Santa Clara, CA. The conference was awesome (as it always is), and the second most awesome thing I remember about that week are the [Togo's sandwiches](http://www.togos.com/), which should give you some idea of how much there is to do, aside from attending software conferences, in Santa Clara. April 2, 2015 Apple iPhone 5s • ISO 50 • f2.2 • 1/120 sec • 4.2 mm

Wandering around ChefConf 2015 in Santa Clara, CA. The conference was awesome (as it always is), and the second most awesome thing I remember about that week are the Togo’s sandwiches, which should give you some idea of how much there is to do, aside from attending software conferences, in Santa Clara.

May 7, 2015 Apple iPhone 5s • ISO 32 • f2.2 • 1/440 sec • 4.2 mm
June 13, 2015 Apple iPhone 5s • ISO 32 • f2.2 • 1/2500 sec • 4.2 mm
Teaching Oliver to skate along the [Burke-Gillman](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burke-Gilman_Trail). September 7, 2015 Apple iPhone 5s • ISO 32 • f2.2 • 1/1000 sec • 4.2 mm

Teaching Oliver to skate along the Burke-Gillman.

You take your car to work, [I'll take my board](https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/weezer/surfwaxamerica.html). July 25, 2016 Apple iPhone 5s • ISO 32 • f2.2 • 1/750 sec • 4.2 mm

You take your car to work, I’ll take my board.

On an ice-cream date with Sammy. September 10, 2016 Apple iPhone 5s • ISO 32 • f2.2 • 1/1600 sec • 4.2 mm

On an ice-cream date with Sammy.

July 9, 2017 Apple iPhone 5s • ISO 32 • f2.2 • 1/1400 sec • 4.2 mm
August 26, 2017 Canon EOS 70D • ISO 200 • f4.5 • 1/1600 sec • 10.0 mm
Chillin' at the rock park on the way back from the library. December 7, 2017 Apple iPhone 7 • ISO 20 • f1.8 • 1/2400 sec • 4.0 mm

Chillin’ at the rock park on the way back from the library.

March 3, 2018 Apple iPhone 7 • ISO 20 • f1.8 • 1/750 sec • 4.0 mm
April 25, 2018 Apple iPhone 7 • ISO 20 • f1.8 • 1/530 sec • 4.0 mm
Morning walk with the pigs. May 23, 2018 Apple iPhone 7 • ISO 20 • f1.8 • 1/1000 sec • 4.0 mm

Morning walk with the pigs.

And finally, date night in Edmonds with my all-time favorite human. May 23, 2018 Apple iPhone 7 • ISO 20 • f1.8 • 1/670 sec • 4.0 mm

And finally, date night in Edmonds with my all-time favorite human.