The Learning

A friend of mine once said that he liked the fall because it reminded him of going back to high school. I thought about that for days after, and even now I still remember it. It serves as a reminder to me that I don’t ever want to be so caught up in the past that I wander through my present and future.

I understand the feeling he felt, though. Change is difficult, even when we want it. As human beings, we are so geared toward holding on to what we have that it is hard to let go of something, even when it’s already gone. Some have worse trouble than others and are selfish in all things; some have the ability to let go in certain areas and free themselves.

One of the things I love about photography is that it is always the present. But the irony, of course, is that once this moment of the present is captured, immediately it melts into the past. This is why I like to take pictures of the same thing several times: the present changes, making the subject darker, lighter, unbelievably cheerful or dreary without hope. And some things are just varying degrees of one or the other.

One location seems to be just the dark and the dreary. Three times I’ve gotten shots at the Lehigh Structural Steel in Allentown; the first, on the hottest day of the year in 2009:

Lehigh Structural Steel, Allentown, PA

The second shot was taken on a bright, clear day last year; and the third, taken today, in the deep cold of the winter. The sign faces north, so the sun is almost always behind it. It sits parallel to the Union Street bridge over the Lehigh River, which was where I took the second shot:

Lehigh Steel, from the BridgeIt turned out almost cheery and somewhat interesting, but I was never terrifically happy with it. The first set I always kind of liked, too, but I was just learning my camera and quite frankly the pictures were very grainy. Today, since I was in the area, and since it was cloudy, I decided to try again.

First problem: the angles are odd. Lehigh Structural Steel is located in an odd sub-basement below the bridge, jam-packed with houses and one-way streets that pass for two-way streets. The first shot I took from an odd angle, from the lot next to the old plant. The bridge is the most direct shot, but in the best of days it’s not a great walk.

Under the bridge is an extension of Tilghman Street, and an odd collection of houses sit there, directly underneath the Union Street bridge. I saw a spot to park at the end of the street, near the railroad tracks, and fit my car in it. From here, it was a short walk along the tracks to the shot I wanted. I decided to get the tracks involved, as well:

Wide shot of Lehigh Structural Steel, Allentown, PALehigh Structural Steel, Allentown, PA

And this seems to have captured its present. The way it should look, warts and all. The other shots have their merit, and they certainly captured the present as of that moment, but these shots seem to capture the spirit of the area more than anything.

This is what I’m learning, and what I’m continuing to learn: the past never gets better and never gets worse. Only the present and the future change, and they always do, so the best thing I can to do is try to change these things rather than something that might have happened in my past. It’s a hard lesson, and one that I continue to learn.

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