Art & Basketball

Before the Final Four, VCU was mostly known in the art, advertising and medical space. Sure, it didn’t make for much of a retort in a gathering of university students (“So what if our football team doesn’t exist?! We create art things!!!”), but it’s what I loved about it.

Group chants and rituals were foreign to me. I never understood the wonders of donning university clothes and, upon stumbling into a fellow Ram in a foreign land, taking part in acknowledgement: You, there, in that shirt that is similar to mine in color and origin that signifies our divergent yet shared experiences – you, my friend, rock.

The few times I got a taste of this elusive school spirit was with Hokie Nation, which I engaged in as a mere observer. I mimicked said chants and rituals, but they came from a detached place. Whenever I raised the ridiculousness of throwing away a perfectly good night after some sort of loss I couldn’t quite grieve, people simply said, “You just don’t understand.”

And I didn’t.

How could I? Blind sports fanaticism went against my very nature. I was always more into independent ventures than following the herds. While I loved certain things and ideas and people, I had no aversion to disagreeing when I felt it was warranted. In fact, I relished it.

Then came the Final Four. “Aren’t you excited?!” people asked. “The Rams made the Sweet 16.”

“What’s that?” I said.

More out of curiosity than school spirit, I tuned into this mysterious, saccharine-themed event. And there he was, this young super coach who oozed charisma. I, of course, was fascinated. I Wikipedia’d. And Googled. And read and read and read. It was a storyteller’s dream – the underdog who rallied a band of underdogs to conquer the mighty ones.

I was reminded of sports’ mystifying ways of bringing out the best and worst in us. And, perhaps more significantly, that nothing else is quite as unifying.

Suddenly, even in corners farther than the corner of my coast, people responded. No longer did I have to say, “Well, it’s in Richmond, which is about two hours from DC…” Instead, it was they who nodded: You there, with your affiliation to the university that spawned that wonderful run – you, my friend, rock.

They understood. And suddenly, so did I.

When I heard VCU was getting a contemporary art institute, I was pretty excited. I was even more excited that the architect was unveiling the design in an exhibit in New York. Last week, my roommate and I headed to the opening reception in Chelsea to check out the models and renderings.

I can’t quite articulate a building’s relationship with its environment like a true architecture nerd can. Nonetheless, I’m an admirer of design, shape and pretty things.

This, to me, says: Look at me, world. I am kind of rad.

It was so neat to have two of my worlds collide. In true creeper form, I eavesdropped on a conversation about Richmond and VCU between (I think) one of the architects and a woman. They talked about the city’s bars and restaurants and southerness.

This is me. Standing awkwardly after about four or five other awkward shots of me not knowing what to do with my hands, feet and, oh I don’t know, face. I am officially terrible at this.

This is Leah, officially not terrible at this. When she asked me to explain this Forking Time thing, I proceeded to read aloud the text on the page. She wasn’t impressed. (Note: This picture was taken at another exhibit.)

This is us, together. Behold our magical feet.

And away we went, gallery hopping into the night.

 Photo credit for watercolor: Steven Holl Architects
More art institute goodness here

How to Lurk Without Dastardly Intentions

Lurking is one of my favorite pastimes.

Sure, it’s often associated with creepiness, what with it also being the favorite pastime of shady characters with hooks for hands, red feathery sombreros and slender yet pointy mustaches. Sure, you’re probably tempted to follow up each mention with “in the shadows.”

But lurking isn’t exclusively for dastardly deeds. It can even happen on a gorgeous afternoon. Saturday was one of those days.

Before I go on, let me preface this by saying it almost didn’t happen. I’d spent much of the morning lounging and reading and surfing (the dry land interwebs kind) that by the time I was ready to go exploring, it was well into the afternoon.

No matter, I thought. It was time to dust off the good ol’ DSLR, charge the batteries, and head on out.

The charger. Where was the charger? Not in the usual spots – the camera bag, on my desk, under my desk, under the bed, in the overhead closet, on the bottom right corner of the closet. It wasn’t in the common rooms or common closets or common nooks behind the couch.

Forty-five minutes of fruitless searching later, I panicked. I CAN’T GO ON. MY BLOG WILL CEASE TO EXIST. AND WITH IT MY WILL TO WRITE AND LIVE AND STUFF.

I then decided to do the next most logical thing. I would research DSLRs online, go to Best Buy, buy a new camera despite not having the funds for it, take pictures and somehow do it all before it was supposed to rain. In two hours.

And then I realized that was impossible. So I panicked some more.

As a last resort, I consulted one of the most amazing tools in reconnecting the dots of my scattered existence: my blog.

I knew the last time I traveled with the camera was here. The charger, I surmised, was either at the beach house or inside the cold, heartless depths of the bin that is airport security.

But then I also knew I charged my batteries right before doing this. Which meant the charger had to be in the apartment somewhere.

And then, I knew.

Looking back, it was quite elementary, my dear reader. The charger, I realized, was clearly on the left side of the closet, next to the ironing board, under a mound of sweaters I hadn’t worn in years and probably never will again.

The lurk was on.

I’m often asked (by my imaginary readers) just how to effectively lurk. I’m by no means a professional, but I’ve spent enough time creeping about to dish out some words of lurkdom. It’s actually very much like walking, which we all do in varying degrees day to day. What sets it apart from snapping a picture on the way to something is there’s intentional exploration involved. That’s where it gets a little less comfortable. Instead of nonchalantly snapping pictures on the way to something, this IS the something you’re walking to. It adds a bit of pressure and an element of “Oh man, am I doing this right?” You’re probably not. Because there isn’t one right way to do this.

The best thing to do is not to over think it. Here are some things that have helped me.

To effectively lurk, you must be incognito. So, put down your multicolored jeggings for now. It’s all about blending in. As for me, I wore the New Yorker uniform: black sweater, black jeans, black flats and black backpack.

Be flexible. The original plan was to gett off at Union Square and walk about 15 minutes to a coffee shop in East Village. But when I emerged from underground, there was so much activity there I stayed.

Observe. I honed this through reporting and from watching the photographers at the local papers I worked for. I must admit that blending in is much easier just with a notepad and a pen. With a camera, people get nervous. Sometimes they want to engage. It’s useful for a little bit of color, but sometimes it results in awkward pictures. I find that it helps to linger long enough for people to stop caring you’re there.

Observing means taking note of the little things. Just because there are 50 people taking pictures in the same place doesn’t mean you will all end up with the same pictures. I like to find funny or non-obvious things, preferably with people in it. I didn’t notice this until after I’d uploaded the picture, but this egg-grabber had bloody fingers.

Color is also neat. And don’t be afraid to get in people’s faces. I’m short, so I often get a lot of people’s backs and limbs in my shots. I don’t mind it, though. It adds movement and an insight into the plight of the vertically challenged.

Sounds are important. I wasn’t in the mood to talk that day, so I wore headphones without actually listening to anything. It’s useful for keeping some sort of distance between you and the subjects, and it also gives people the impression you’re not really listening to whatever they’re saying. Conversations are interesting. In New York, people are used to eavesdroppers and eavesdropping (One guy: “They inject it in your stomach?” Gross.).

The pianist, after a song: “We just met today. He got here two minutes ago.”

Be friendly. Maybe it helps I look 12 and harmless, but I find people are receptive to smiles. New York might be the exception in that people are used to having cameras around, especially on Union Square near the film school. In the event someone does say, “Get outta my face, you picture-taking chipmunk,” just admit defeat, put the camera down and slink off. The good news is, I haven’t had too many of those.

Be confident. The guy on the left actually gave me the death stare after I snapped this picture. He wasn’t having it. So, I did what any normal little person would do in the face of imminent danger. I stood next to him. He dared not look at me like that again.

I’d seen this guy before. Matthew Silver the Great Performer works for the universe.

Finally, just shoot. They say the best camera is the one you have with you (which explains why I’ve been Instagramming everything), but the DSLR has its purpose. I love its quickness and versatility. I love pretending I’m on a super important photo expedition somewhere exotic. I still get nervous when I pick up the DSLR for the first time in a long time. It takes a while to get confident with it. When this happens, I find the best thing to do is to survey the area, walk around, take a deep breath and just shoot.

Happy lurking, friends.