Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday photo

Flag reflected in rain puddles. University of Michigan, April 2011.

How can you miss Oregon when it's been raining every day in Michigan for the last couple weeks? It seems like every day, anyway, although the National Weather Service may have statistics to prove otherwise. But rain is visually interesting, so I dawdled my way across campus the other day, trying out a few shots that featured the rain and its effect. This one came out ... not especially attractive, but interesting in its own way.

Freezing the flag's motion, and the ripples' motion, gives it an entirely different look than in real life. It's barely identifiable as a flag, but a touch of extra saturation brings out enough red to trigger recognition. The bricks are red, too, but reflect the overcast sky so strongly that they remain a particularly ugly shade of greenish-gray.

To my cynical eye, it almost looks like a pool of blood flowing across the bricks, which is not any effect I had in mind when I took the photo. Nor did I intend the flag to represent any political critique of our country. But now that the photo is there, it almost seems to have its own ideas on what it's going to mean. Or, to take more responsibility, my own mind doesn't reject the association of American flag + blood on the streets = some appropriate commentary. It's just too easy these days, with Americans now fighting in three different Middle Eastern countries where they too often can't tell what they're shooting at, and too often kill people who only want to be left alone. And supporting a few other countries where the rulers are celebrating spring by deliberately shooting down their own people in the streets.

I wish our flag didn't trigger those associations so easily. One of the more painful moments for me is to watch the Olympics or the World Cup and watch fans waving their nations' flags with joy and pride. I can cheer for our athletes, but it's hard for me to wave our flag; it's been coopted by the uglier nationalists in our midst, whose cry of "God Bless America!" always seem to carry the subtext, "(and no one else, unless they toe the line)." Most often, that phrase carries an overtone of belligerence, and too often the vocal tones are undeniably angry. While other nations have their ugly nationalists, too, I just don't get that impression of hostility when I hear hockey fans give a full-throated rendition of "O Canada", even if that sort of national consciousness surely must owe a lot to awareness of those noisy foreign neighbors.

As I said, I get jealous. I wish my flag triggered a more innocent kind of pride.


Heidi Nemeth said...

My daughter, who now lives in Germany, expresses her dismay at the American hubris expressed in "God Bless America" by saying, "Imagine a German saying 'God Bless Germany!'"

Scott Hanley said...

Of course, the Germans aren't even supposed to sing "Deutschland, Deutschland ├╝ber alles" any more. There's a bumper sticker I see occasionally that says "God bless everyone, no exceptions." It puts the patriotic chant into appropriate perspective, I think.

Heather Thams said...

This is a beautiful photo. It's actually a very powerful image, and I'm surprised I've never seen anything like this before. You're right, the photo seems to have an agenda, but I don't think you meant it that way when you took it.