Thursday, August 20, 2009



Recently, Relyn and Robin have been including some "unphotographable" moments on their blogs. I’m not sure what their precise definition is, but from what they've written and how I interpret it, I have come up with one of my own.

I define an unphotgraphable moment as one that simply cannot be adequately conveyed on film. Sometimes you can try. But it is ultimately a photograph of the heart, one to remain indelible, yet ephemeral.

We all have those, don’t we? The moment where we don’t have our camera and something endearing happens. Or the finished photo isn’t nearly what the memory was.

Sometimes that photo just can’t capture it, because in the endgame, it’s not the image, it’s a collection of images, a collection of experiences.

Recently I attended the Great Lakes Folk Festival, which I described in my last post. I was recuperating from a quick but intense flu bug, and was wearing out. But I had to see the klezmer group, Beyond the Pale, which was performing at the dance stage.

I have two genres of what I call soul music – music I feel I knew even before I was born. Klezmer is one of them.

The festival’s dance tent can be found on the asphalt-covered parking lot behind a row of typically overpriced college shops and restaurants on the main drag. At one end of the tent, the musicians perform on a fairly large stage. Rows of chairs form a semi-circle around a wooden dance floor. The bands on this stage alternate over three days between Cajun, klezmer, Cuban/Carribbean, Tex-Mex, polka, Latin and Norwegian-American, and it’s one of the more popular stages at the event.

This particular evening was a hot one, and walking in the humid early evening air was like walking into a wall. The eight-hour rainstorm that started the day at six in the morning was long over, but the heavy damp atmosphere seemed all the more so with the intense heat that had grown through the day.

We had just finished dinner and wandered over to the dance tent to see the group I was waiting for. It was a packed venue, but we were able to find chairs, and tucked the folding chairs we’d brought with us under our seats. And the music began.

Most times at the dance stage, the moves aren’t taught. The band plays, encourages people to dance, and everyone just goes at it. In some cases, polka for example, the dance is a common one, and most know it. But the dances associated with klezmer aren't so common -- one's most extensive experience may be dancing the hora at a Jewish wedding.

It didn’t matter.

Within moment the floor was filled with people, young and old. They formed a line, then a circle, with the more experienced dancers moving about in a grapevine step, and the others just running along with them as the tempo increased. Someone would move in toward the center, holding the hands of those on either side. Then out, then in again. Soon the whole group was moving as one, in and out, hands raised, hands lowered.

Song after song, the dance continued. Small groups would break off to the side, doing their own thing, forming bridges under which others passed. Others would break the circle and turn it into a spiral.

As a waltz slowed things down, a couple passed by, their year-old daughter swirling along with them, held in their arms. The child simply beamed, and it was clear this family loved one another very much.

The music changes. While the group moves about in various steps, a mother guides her son who looks to be about ten into a tango. His footwork is off, his steps long, and his smile is wide.

Three teen girls dance together in one spot, while in another a group of college-aged kids incorporate every move from bridges and twirls to allemande left and swing your partner!

Sometimes, the circle turns into a solo dance, with an individual or couple moving center, doing their variation, then returning to the periphery, so another can have a turn.

Several young men, possibly twenty years old or so and wearing white "Phantom" masks that cover the tops of their faces leap into the fray. One of them has a video camera and he’s capturing it all.

And it all works. There are smiles, there is joy. There is the frenzy of the wailing clarinet, the powerful melody of the accordion. There is no pattern, yet it comes together in the most sublime patchwork quilt of music and dance.

And then there was the fellow I called The Ponytail and whom Rick decided must be a Gypsy.

He was probably sixty, his gray hair pulled into a short ponytail at the nape of his neck. He wore a light colored, pressed shirt with long sleeves, tucked neatly into pleated black pants and had been dancing all evening, often with a woman in a black leotard. Yet amidst a sea of sweat-soaked, smiling bodies, he alone appeared cool and crisp.

He knew how to dance – there was no doubt about that. We’d watched him all evening, dazzled by his footwork, his sense of the music, his élan. He was confident, composed, and having a wonderful time.

The band begins its last set – a fifteen minute medley of fairly fast-paced tunes. The Ponytail pulls a kerchief from his pocket and leads the group into their circle, waving the kerchief and weaving throughout the stage and the group moves much as it had before – long lines, small groups, in and out, living the music.

But then something different happens.

The Ponytail has turned to face one side of the audience and begins moving to music apart from the circle. Others form a line behind him, mimicking his movements. Then more turn to join. Till finally, the whole group is behind The Ponytail, mirroring his actions, swiveling their hips, raising an arm, bending backwards or moving closer to the ground. They are one.

And the music soars, the audience claps in rhythm, the dancers smile.

And it is unphotographable.


Pugelicious said...

Yes you are so right - photographs are a moment. Our moments should never be discarded.

Unknown said...

Interesting photos! These types of photographs make me think of ghosts floating thru the air. Using your imagination, you can come up with some great stories to go with these "blurry" photos. I may have to try this - heaven knows, I have a lot of these type photos!

Jane Rosemont said...

Love these thoughts, Jeanie. You inspire me, make me want to scrounge for my unphotographable photographs!

beth said...

this was all photographed in your mind and sometimes that's the best place for memories to stay...

anno said...

I rather like the dreamy, caught-in-peripheral-vision quality of these photographs. Reminds me of the feeling I have about some of my favorite memories... favorite poems, too. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

joyce said...

I think these photos capture it in a way that clear photographs wouldn't. And capturing those moments is kind of what I wrote about today too.
I would've loved to listen to that music....but from afar, where there was no crowd!

Mary Timme said...

Music speaks to our heart rhythms I think and is never well defined by being captured--as it simply can't be.

~*~Magpie's Nest said...

Fascinating reading.....your photos have a sense of mystery that seems fitting....had to go to YouTube for a listen to some Klezmer music, I'd never heard of it before...stirred my gypsy soul it did!!! :)

Rosa said...

I love your photos! I love the movement. And yes, unphotographable. Beautiful.

BONNIE K said...

I would have loved to have watched The Ponytail.

Joanne Huffman said...

It may have been "unphotographable," but I feel you have captured it for those of us who were not there.

robin-bird said...

beautiful! wonderful!! you are a visionary genius jeanie! i loved this post and felt the pulse of the music and your delight. and although i know nothing of this musical style i applaud it's ability to to bring so many together in happiness.

yes!! i say yes to this mantra my dear friend :)
"Fully expect the Universe to Cooperate"


Relyn Lawson said...

Goodie! I love that you captured your own unphotographable. Isn't it fun? This is just a wonderful post.

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