Senior Columns: Seconds forever

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Justin Kim

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Photo by Aditya Pimplaskar.

A dancer suspended three feet off the ground. A football player, trying to shake off the four arms wrapped around his torso, charging toward the endline. That shy, bashful, rosy smile that sneaks across a girl’s face as she hands her boyfriend a box of Star Wars collectibles and candy that she hopes and almost knows he’ll like. No one really gives these moments a second glance, these small events that exist only for a heartbeat, but if you capture it
through a lens in that exact moment, they end up being cherished for years to come. Blink, wait a second too long, and they disappear. In my four years at MVHS, I suppose that’s one of the best lessons I’ve learned
.

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Photo by Justin Kim.

Someone once told me that “10% of good photography is the equipment. The other 90% is the person and the moment combined.” What makes a good photo, beyond the technique, is the story it tells and the way it touches people. Like the National Geographic picture of the Afghan girl. Or the American troops on the hill erecting the Stars and Stripes up on Iwo Jima. Sure, the focus and the exposure were right. But a perfectly lit, in-focus picture of a fried egg doesn’t tell the story that way. That egg doesn’t become a symbol of the era.

Being a perfectionist, as a photographer, I kept trying to take the perfect picture with the perfect lighting and perfectly sharp edges because that perfection fed my ego while ‘bad’ shots hurt it. I would review photos in the middle of a football game while the ball was in midair or during a play while the actors took their bows. I obsessed over getting the perfect picture, waiting for the exact moment when everything would be right.

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Photo by Justin Kim.

Now, more so than the failures the shaky and overly bright or dark pictures focused on the background regret the shots I missed. I let moments slip by because I was afraid of screwing up. In doing so, I ended up missing moments that could’ve been the “perfect picture.” The moments of celebration immediately after an unexpected goal that manages to tie the game. The actors huddled in a tight ball and chanting “Energy, energy, all around…” for the last time together. It’s such an abstract idea, perfection.

I remember one moment: the end of the field hockey senior game. I was busy reviewing the shots I had already taken when my partner poked me and said, “Look, take a picture.” Junior varsity field hockey coach Bonnie Belshe was hugging one of the captains, a senior who Belsha had known for since freshman year. For a moment, they just stood there, surrounded by the darkness and cold air, with steam drifting off their cheeks into the night. Isn’t it funny how moments like that pop up in life? A chance to make yourself better or to gain something or to just be happier. And sometimes you miss it because you were stuck focusing on what already happened and whether or not it was perfect. By the time I turned to take the picture, the perfect picture for the night, they had already parted. That moment was gone.

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Photo by Justin Kim.

There are countless moments like that one, every day of every year, especially at our age. High school is a time of discovery and experimentation, where each day is a new chance to learn and grow. Even if we don’t want to learn anything from the hours of lectures that grow ever quieter as our eyelids slip and our heads quiver in an attempt to resist gravity, we inevitably learn about ourselves and what we want to do. What we can do. To find those things and to take a shot at them.

When I entered high school, I thought that writing was going to be my ‘thing.’ My sole passion, my main pursuit. Sometimes, when I’m developing a roll of film, I think about that thought and chuckle a little. I’ll remember the moment I took my first photograph. I’ll never get the moment back, but I’ll remember it fondly for a good while. Just like those first steps into A111. Talking to all the

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Photo by Justin Kim.

people I know in journalism for the first time, joking with them, running away from them after telling them terrible puns, tackle hugging them while ruffling their hair and whacking them on the head with the magazine. They were all chances, all moments that disappear after that instant. I’m glad I took those chances. The one thing I wish, at the end of my senior year when everything is winding down to a halt, is that I took more shots, more pictures, more opportunities to do more and discover.

So, as a photographer and a person who’s done with high school, my advice for anyone here is this: take that shot.