by Amelia Kanan
That would be the title of my book. “Nothing Special.”
Inside would be a random collection of colorful images that I’ve lovingly captured and categorized as exactly that. A young girl waiting for a bus alone, a home cooked meal that isn’t stylistically plated or professionally lit, an oversized tree on a small lot and tress. There were would be lots of trees.
At 15 years old, I took my first photography class at 15 years old and never thought, or even hoped, that it would become my career. Photography was like that childhood best friend who you could always count on for candid connections, edgy mischief, and unfiltered self-discovery. The one with whom you’re secretly in love, yet maybe too shy to do anything about it.
Just like the first whiff of darkroom chemicals, it wasn’t love at first sight. At any rate, sparks of true kinship were there. I felt it, venturing into neglected areas hoping to catch something new and feeling protected despite being alone. Or in the nervous excitement that came through the lens, as I pulled focus on something small and unseen.
And that was just the beginning! There was pulsing anticipation, loading a spiral in the pitch dark. Then thrill, once the film dried and displayed crisp, well-balanced frames. Soon thereafter, calming comfort in the chill darkroom, calculating exposure and developing an enlargement. And finally, the best spark of all – the final print. With each one, I could feel my heart expand, knowing that such a long, arduous and triumphant journey would forever be safely preserved.
When you’re young, experiences or relationships such as this can often get whitewashed and taken for granted. You may also be a little unaware that although something has taken root, doesn’t mean you can stop watering it.
Time and time again, my contact sheets were full of nothing special. In the beginning, that was okay. But, after awhile I discovered some troublesome themes. An abandoned home with broken windows and graffiti. A crying baby and a distressed mother. Shattered glass in a bed of roses. A lone stranger, deep in thought. Gravestones at night, lit with my flashlight.
The dry roots were ejecting my buried vulnerabilities from the dark, bursting aberrations into my viewfinder.
Being the novice that I was, troubleshooting was out of the question as was asking for help. Instead, I turned a cold corner and retreated from the negative space.
After 3 years, the time had come to break up. I masked my special love, along with my tender inner truths and said goodbye to my high school sweetheart. Clearly, I thought, the relationship was dead and it had nothing to do with me.
It was time to discover something new, something more mature, something special.
Mysteriously and problematically, photography wouldn’t let me go. Like that ex-love that always comes back, it seemed to always find a way to thread itself into every pursuit I embarked on. College, jobs, gigs and projects – it found a way to reconnect with me no matter where I went.
Begrudgingly, I took it by the hand and worked with it. Capturing all kinds of scenes, faces, events, new businesses, causes, families and even a few celebrities.
Before I knew it, I found myself depending on it financially. But, more incredibly, we had discovered a new kind of nothing special. One that was full of brightness, alive with vibrancy and composed with clarity.
My settings had adjusted and my aspect ratio was corrected.
My “nothing special” hasn’t only been a career-saving grace, it has been my insightful guide, partner in crime and better half.
Photography overexposed my truths – over and over again – until I acknowledged and embraced them. It gently nudged me to work on underdeveloped traits, such as patience, direction, focus and being quiet. It provided me with filtering and diffusing techniques and helped me widen my view. And made me understand the real value of background and memory.
What’s more, it instructed me to listen, look at the same thing from different angles, remove myself from the picture and remain still in the midst of a chaotic scene.
And, the most transcendent of all, photography taught me that old, sturdy roots are not necessarily restricting or prone to decay. They can push you to stretch and sway freely in the wind, but ensure you’re secure so you don’t get lost in a strong gust. It can be your daily source of great escape.
Photography was the prime picture I needed to trust and release fear so that I could expose myself to better, ambient light. It was the proof I needed to understand that if you allow nothing special to develop at its own speed, it could become your most valuable life treasure.