Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dating Life: Don't. Touch. The. Pictures.

I met a guy a few months ago. It was our first meeting and I'd picked a fabulous venue for our first date, if you want to call it that: Stanford University's Cantor Arts Center. It was a beautiful day and I was going there to not only meet this guy, but to make small dream come true.

Richard Avedon's book of portraits In the American West is my favorite photography book of all time. I have it in my office at work, open and propped up on a shelf, and every week or so I change the pages so I can ponder and be amazed by yet another portrait. The photographs are uncompromising and challenging. I can look at them for hours. I even wrote a short story based on one of them.

Stanford's Cantor Arts Center was exhibiting half of the portraits from the original show shown in 1985. I couldn't wait to see them. Avedon had chosen to blow the portraits up to huge size so they were even more in your face.

As I met the guy, I managed to be fairly reserved, but I was jumping out of my skin with anticipation for this exhibit. When we got to the room with the portraits, I felt like I was going to pass out from giddiness.

Oh my God! They were all just as marvelous and moving and wonderful and disturbing as I thought they would be. They featured some of my favorites, including the one I based my short story on. We talked about each photograph, about the subject, about the details we could see in the pictures. Things were going well. I was really happy.

And then...he reached out to make a point about one of the portraits and he touched the photograph.

I flinched where I was standing. Then I kept flinching because he kept doing it as we moved around the room. I didn't know what to do. I knew I should tell him to knock it off, but I was worried he would think I was too uptight. Then I realized anybody who felt that way about something I said didn't deserve to spend time with me, especially in that place. I was about to tell him to stop when a security guard showed up and told him to back off. I breathed a sigh of relief. He made a snide comment about how he "broke the rules."

Now you should know I had a similar attitude about touching art when I was much younger. I worked at a children's museum where everything was interactive and had an arrogant view of "regular" art which you weren't supposed to touch. In fact, I almost got booted out of the San Jose Museum because I insisted upon sitting inside a 3-D piece of art. When the security guard came up and told me to remove myself or I would be asked to leave, I sneered much in the same way this guy did. I explained to the guard that the best way to experience the piece was clearly sitting inside it and it was his loss if he didn't see it that way.

I have since learned more about art, what makes art special and why I love it so much. I still like to get close to pieces, but I don't try to touch them anymore. Getting close is one thing (sometimes the guards still have to ask me to back off), but touching those pictures is quite another. For crying out loud they were from the original show and Avedon is dead!

The guy did give me a nice compliment. He said he hadn't been with someone as intellectual as me in a long time, and that I had a lot of depth. Still, it didn't work out. He wasn't into me either.