blur. noun. An area of visual indistinctness, blending, smear, or similar confusion and lack of sharp contrasts or boundaries in a picture or on a document. verb. Make a blur. The source of this word is unclear: possibly a sound-symbolic coinage; possibly related to blear; first seen in print in the 1500s.
How many Zen masters does it take to change a lightbulb? Two: one to change it and one not to change it.
Jacob likes that old joke. He has his own version: How many people do you need to make a good picture? Two: one to be in focus and one to be out of focus.
It’s not really as simple as that, of course, and he knows it; you can have good photos with zero, one, two, or more people, and as many as all of them can be in focus (though it’s a rare photo that can look good with people in it who are all out of focus). But if you have two people in a photo and one is sharp and one is blurry, you have an essential tension that’s at least a starting point.
Jacob likes blurs. To hell with “f/8 and be there.” To double hell with the f/64 snobs. Sure, they made some lovely painterly photos. But there is virtue in blur too, be it bokeh or motion blur. The world is noisy and full of things demanding your attention. It’s good to be able to focus on one at a time, and to have peace or at least softness around it. Or to be moving so fast it’s blurred, or to be so still that anything moving is blurred.
There are many ways of getting blurs. One is in the glass Jacob is taking another drink from: focus the mind on one thing with alcohol and let the rest soften away. Soften the focus of your eyes, too – the gradual toll heavy drinking can take on the nerves and pancreas gives ways for your eyes to be more prone to blurring.
Another way is in that camera cabinet, attached to the Leica M2 body: an expensive, heavy lens, one of Jacob’s favourites, when he can use it. Plenty of lenses give nice blurs, but a Leica Noctilux is chief among them. He used it for these photographs on these two pages, some lovely blurs from one of the blurs he enjoyed the most, the week at the resort on Maui with Dave and Ellen and Luke and Marina. It went by in a haze of alcohol, sugar, sport, and flirtation. It was almost like high school again, except he didn’t have this kind of fun in high school. Probably no one did. Probably the people who say they did are lying. This is adult fun with adult hangovers. There is no such word as teenagery.
The boys sure weren’t having this kind of time. They were in their teens, old enough to be left behind. Not too much to worry about. The house was too far out in the country to be a serious party threat, or anyway if they did have a party they must have cleaned up well after it. They were safe on their own. Lucian could drive when necessary. Jacob and Pam deserved a fun trip without the kids. And they had one.
These pictures are from an evening on the resort patio, sitting out with drinks on the wicker chairs, little white lights bearded on trees and garlanded between posts, showing in these photos as swirling blur-beads behind the shadow-draped thelemites laughing and gazing and raising glasses.
In this picture Pam is leaning back in a pillow-laden lounge chair, laughing to the sky, as she shows something on her BlackBerry to Ellen, who, slightly out of focus, is twisting to the left in her chair to lean and look.
In this one Dave is reclining with a beer glass balanced on his knee, and he appears to be surveying the geography of Pam, who is momentarily dozing in her chair in the softening near background.
In this one Luke and Marina are in focus, chatting with the look of European intellectuals (those bold-rimmed glasses), while a blurry hand closer to the camera (Dave’s?) holds a martini and, farther back in the shadows, a face – Ellen’s – is looking not at them but at… well, towards the camera, can’t tell, not in focus.
And here Ellen is under an arch made by spray of lights on a palm tree, her sternum half behind a bowl-shaped stem glass with ice cubes in it glowing from a table lamp. She is discussing something that looks very interesting with Luke and Marina: her fingers are splayed, her eyes full open.
These pictures… that was the evening, wasn’t it, when, after all this cinemagenic patio revelry, he and Ellen went walking on the beach? Yes, it seems to him it was. Pam had disappeared from the patio, presumably up to their room, most likely to snooze. Luke and Marina said they were going to walk to the store, and Dave said he was going off to have a cigarette. Jacob abominated smoke, still does. It was left to him and Ellen to go for a stroll on the strand, a remaindering that Jacob had been angling for and Ellen seems to have sought as well.
Damned if he can remember too much of what they talked about. It’s all filler anyway. Hands brushed, arms brushed, they sat down, arms casually wrapped around backs, the distance of conversation contracted. At some point one pair of ethanol-filled eyes scanned the other pair and their lips started a different movement together, so soft but the only thing in focus in that moment. He remembers one thing Ellen said – or did he say it? “How much trouble do you want to get into?”
As they walked back to the heart of the resort, just nearing the patio, they heard a crashing sound like an orangutan losing a wrestling match with a tree, followed by a thud and some vulgar expressions of discomfort. And then from the greater darkness Dave emerged, looking behind him and up, and then he looked forward and saw Jacob and Ellen and seemed surprised to see them there. After a moment he started to laugh. Ellen looked at him and said, “Did you tear that shirt? I just got you that shirt.”
Dave shrugged and stretched out his arms as though to gather words he could use. “I… thought I’d have a smoke up a tree.”
“Be careful not to get burnt.”
Ellen turned towards Jacob for a moment, raised her eyebrows and sighed amusedly. Jacob looked up towards the top of the tree. There was a balcony by it. Pam came out onto it in her bathrobe and looked down. A moment later Luke and Marina appeared behind her, each holding up a bottle of something. They looked down and saw the other three.
“Come up and join us!” Luke shouted down. “I think we woke Pam up but it’s party time. Again!”
Dave sat down on the sand, put his head between his knees and laughed about as hard as anyone had seen anytime. Ellen looked at Jacob and shrugged lightly again.
Jacob said, “It’s my room, so I guess I’m in for the long haul.”
Jacob remembers that they all slept late the next day and didn’t do a whole lot. Heat, humidity, and sun are not the best cure for wood-cracking hangovers. The rest of the trip passed without major incident. Or much in the way of keepable photographs. It’s all background. It was just there so that one evening could be in focus… bits of it, anyway, sharp and crisp, while the rest was soft and glowing.
Luke and Marina lived too far away to see too often. Dave and Ellen did not.
Even now, nearly a decade later, he’s friends with Ellen. Again. Friends. Dave, well…
He’s surely in touch with Pam. Dave is. In regular touch.
Damn, that was a fine evening. And those are some fine photos. As far as personal vacation pictures go.
Jacob’s prismatic glass of Bourbon may need a refill soon. He doesn’t really want to do that because it will require standing up, and that will involve his blood needing time to catch up to his head. Why is he sitting on the floor? What was the reason? Oh, whatever. Next album.