"Never Mind the Great Ideas, Just Life Itself"

When I was a freshman in college, I was part of a play with the theatre department called Hotel Cassiopeia by Charles Mee.  There were many parts of this abstract play and its existential dialogue that pulled at our heartstrings, but one scene stood out to us as we prepared for our final performance, the last time we would all be together onstage, the last time we would play a part in this story, and when the beautiful experience of putting together this show would all come to an end.  Here’s the dialogue from that scene (exactly as it is written):

MATTA
What sort of future do you see?
what sort of future of humanity and of the world

DUCHAMP
what new forms

MATTA
what new visions

DUCHAMP
this will be the job of the artist

MATTA
this will be the artist's only job

DUCHAMP
because the great changes in the world
the changes of consciousness
the changes of our sense of life itself
will not come from the reasoned arguments
of political scientists or philosophers
but from the visions of artists
not by arguing well
but by speaking differently

MATTA
or is this a promise that has failed, or is failing?
new visions are easy to come up with
but the world goes on ignoring the best of them
the world is littered with so many utopias

DUCHAMP
so many visions of wondrousness
so many great ideas

MATTA
and even ideas that were possible at one time or another
beautiful things

DUCHAMP
or never mind the great ideas
just life itself
the moments of life itself
transporting things
things that will last a moment
and then vanish forever
vanish forever
how does one cherish even what has happened
let alone what might have happened
how does one relish it
how does one relish life itself
it slips through the fingers so quickly

MATTA
this is where the work comes from
if one is an artist
from the shooting stars
water in a stream
a love
a young girl
a woman
a ballerina on the stage
snow flakes
the lifespan of a butterfly
all gone

The whole script is available for you to read online here.

One of my first photography adventures (and one of my first meetings with Clemson Photography) was to the penthouse of Clemson House.  Clemson House was built as a hotel in the 50s, but was later converted into a dorm.  We needed special permission to go up there and the view was stunning, especially at sunset.  I met Alex, who quickly became my friend and later became my co-president of the club, my roommate, and a trusted fellow photographer.

 We've tried to recreate this picture because I was still new to using a DSLR, but he still likes this one the best, and edited it to look a little more vintage.

We've tried to recreate this picture because I was still new to using a DSLR, but he still likes this one the best, and edited it to look a little more vintage.

We went back to the penthouse with the club a few more times.  We somehow all climbed on the actual roof, which was one of my favorite memories of college.

 Photo by Madeline Hemmingson

Photo by Madeline Hemmingson

Clemson House Clemson Photography

We played with light after sunset, which was always a good time. 

 Playing with the steam from the laundry room coming through the pipe.  Photo by  Alex Stewart

Playing with the steam from the laundry room coming through the pipe.  Photo by Alex Stewart

 Same spot, different day.  Photo by  Alex Stewart

Same spot, different day.  Photo by Alex Stewart

Here’s the photo that eventually went on my business card was taken at the penthouse.

Clemson House sunset converse shoes

Clemson House was Dan’s freshman dorm (where he lived when we first started to become friends) and he eventually proposed to me at the penthouse. 

 Photo by Michael Scott

Photo by Michael Scott

On our wedding day, we took some time to drive to the main part of campus for some pictures.  We went to Bowman to get Clemson House in the background.  We knew for a while that there were plans to demolish it, but we found out a little before the wedding that the demolition would start within the week after our wedding.  Right before it started storming, we took some wedding pictures with this building that meant so much to us and held so many important memories. 

One day on the honeymoon, not even a week after our wedding, we were just lying on the bed talking.  At some point, one of us was on Facebook and saw a Facebook Live video of the first step of the Clemson House demolition: removing the iconic neon sign.  This was where I met Alex and so many of my photography club friends, and where we climbed on the roof and collaborated on photo ideas we had.  This was where I took so many photos.  This was where Dan proposed to me.  This was where we took some of our wedding photos as the thunder started.  And now we were watching that place go away, and nobody else would get to experience what we did.

We were two of thousands who watched as this iconic part of campus was slowly taken apart.  We saw the Facebook comments rolling in:

“I lived here all 4 years!”

“I was married in the penthouse in 1974.”

“I made some of my best friends on the 4th floor.”

Throughout the day, several Clemson Photography alumni who shared some of those memories with me tagged me in some Instagram posts from our trips up there.  We saw that day that even though our connection to the building was unique, we were far from the only ones who felt such a strong connection to this place.

What was unique, though, was that our engagement was PROBABLY the last reservation made at the penthouse, and we MAY have been in the last photos ever taken of the building before the demolition.

Someday, our grandkids will be showing their kids our wedding pictures in front of a building they never got to see in person, and telling them, “That’s back when Clemson House was still there.  That’s where they got engaged and they think they were the last to reserve the penthouse and the last people to take pictures with it.”  If our descendants are Tigers, that’ll be something they can show their friends.  Future Tigers will see those pictures the same way we look at pictures taken with the “Hollywoodland” letters, Old Man on the Mountain, or the Pont des Arts.  I was in Clemson last week and saw that the windows have been removed from Clemson House.  We’ve been married for four months and our wedding portraits are practically already antiquities.

The thing is, we don’t always know when we take a picture that something in it won’t be there in a year.  It could be a building, a person, a connection, a time in your life, or a feeling.  That’s why it’s so important to have pictures, and that’s why so many of us have the drive to give people the best pictures possible. 

Note: Everything in this blog about Clemson House and my own wedding day was drafted before I actually started shooting weddings myself.  I hadn’t published it yet, but now I have something to add to it.

I was recently a second shooter for a major wedding photography company.  With this company, I’m hired to shoot for the whole day and then upload all my RAW (unedited and uncompressed) files for someone else to edit.  The couple receives their whole gallery within six weeks.  One night, a little under three weeks after that wedding, I got a text from the main shooter:

“Hey Christine, sorry for the late text, but can you check your email?”

Well, that’s a text that normally signifies something important.  I nervously opened my email.

“Hey Christine, do you have any pictures of the guy with the glasses?  He passed away and the couple would like some pictures to be able to show at his funeral.”

I froze when I saw the picture he attached.  It was a picture of the groom standing next to a guy with glasses holding his son, the little boy who’d caught the garter.  I remembered that he’d held his son on his shoulders so he could catch the garter.  The main shooter knew that I had pictures of this guy because he was a groomsman and I’d been assigned to take pictures of them getting ready and take group pictures of them.    I couldn’t even remember this guy’s name, but I apparently had some of the last pictures ever taken of him.  I knew that I’d have a picture of just him and the groom and a picture of him getting ready with the groom.  I looked through my pictures and saw pictures of him dancing with his young daughter at the reception, and then a few of him holding hands with his wife as they danced around their son and daughter.  They just seemed like sweet photo ops at the time I decided to take them, not very different from photos from other wedding receptions, but now they were so much more than that.  These moments were how he would be remembered because there are pictures of them.  

Things happen and it’s sometimes hard to explain to other people what life was like before then, but seeing pictures on a wall or in an album doesn’t always require an explanation. The groomsman’s children are 8 and 4.  They won’t have as many memories of him as they’d like, but they can look back on pictures of him to remember how he smiled or that day they all danced together at the wedding reception.  I won’t be able to show my future children where Dan proposed to me, but they’ll be able to see pictures from that day, and they’ll have a better understanding how perfect of a view that was for a proposal.  This is why I do what I do: of course we want to remember the significant events of life, but the little moments that aren't pre-planned or talked about are just as important to us to remember.

"Never mind the great ideas, just life itself." 

-- Charles Mee, Hotel Cassiopeia