I photograph subjects other than food.
In fact, my favorite subjects are people. Portraiture is, perhaps, my favorite genre of art.
Prompted by the surprising level of interest in my food photographs (which really are amateur, on-the-fly shots, you do realize), I’ve considered, for a while now, starting a new series on this blog, which expands my infrequent chitchat about restaurants (and the accompanying visual aids) to include a photo of the week. These photos will tap into an ever-growing private stash that has never been published here, or on my Flickr account.*
As you know, I am not one who lives my life out publicly, airing any old snapshots of me, or my friends wantonly (or really, at all). I respect the privacy of my friends (and strangers) and only ask the same from others. This does not and will not change with this post.
Although some of the forthcoming photos may seem completely unrelated to the primary purpose of this blog, they are all inextricably tied to a specific food memory.
This inaugural “photo of the week” is one that I submitted as my profile picture to the producers of CNN’s “Eatocracy” blog, who are featuring me as one of their regional food bloggers. My usual “lips” photo wouldn’t work – the resolution was too low for their purposes. So I had to come up with another.
This isn’t a photograph of me.
This was taken by me from the comfort of my usual, ulterior position behind the shutter. It is one of my favorites.
This is a photograph of my good friend Stanford at the base camp of the Matterhorn in Switzerland. It was taken in the summer of 1999 on a shoestring romp through Europe in our last summer of college. There were three of us on this trip; Muskateers, the best of friends.
Neither one of them had been through Europe, so I was their guide. We were first in Paris, where Dunham sprang his ankle, then in Interlacken, where an x-ray confirmed the injury. With aspirations of seeing, if not climbing part of the Matterhorn with us, Dunham reluctantly, but nobly bowed-out, opting for a side-trip to Munich instead. Go, he urged the two of us, we should continue without him, he insisted. So much for all for one and one for all. We agreed to rendez-vous in Venice three days hence.
Stanford and I made our way to Zermatt, a lovely, if not expensive little village at the foot of the the mountain. The first day, we hiked to a tiny way-station, near the glacial line, not far from the Italian border. We fell upon our austere dinner of boiled beef and potatoes like two ravenous dogs on a hunt. (To this day, I marvel at how they manage to get provisions to that outpost on a consistent basis.)
The next day, we switched back on the trail and ascended to the base camp, a six-hour vertical trek, without stopping for food or water. The no food part was our choice – that boiled beef had legs. The no water part, however, was my folly. I had failed to fill our bottles, thinking we could get water from the stream on the way up. Of course, I overlooked the fact that we were ascending above the glacial line.
We arrived, parched and gasping at the thin air. Setting our packs down – mine weighed half as much as I – we each downed two bottles of water, which were bought for what seemed like a king’s ransom from the small canteen adjacent to the hut. Sitting down, feet dangling over a ledge with a breathtaking vista of the Alps, we inhaled a 2-quart bag of granola that Stanford had packed.
That was the best granola I had ever had, and probably will ever have.
Then I took this photo.**
That night, we camped in the hut in bunks along with dozens of climbers from around the world, most of whom aimed at summiting the Matterhorn the next day. Scheduled to depart around 2 a.m., they were all still asleep when I awoke at 4 a.m. to the sound of nails being driven into the roof. Curious, I stumbled to the front door for a peek outside. Cracking the door slightly, I was nearly knocked off my feet by a blast of ice. A freak, mid-summer storm had arrived and we were stuck.
As early as 5:30 a.m., everyone was up and gathered in the canteen, maps out, the tension high. We were all ill-equipped for the sudden onslaught of snow and ice.
Here was a group from Andorra, there a group from Japan, and over there, between the teams from Australia and South Africa, was a group from Sweden. It was a United Nations of climbers, and Stanford and I were the lone Americans.
Desperate to get off the mountain – remember, Dunham was meeting us in Venice the next day – Stanford and I found a lone Dutchman, oddly at peace, who agreed to be our guide down. Should we have been worried that he was smoking like a chimney at 10,000 feet? We willingly overlooked that detail given that it was his twentieth-some trip to the Matterhorn and he seemed like our only hope.
A more harrowing four hours I had not lived until that day. The descent was dare-devilishly deadly, but tragically breathtaking. Teetering on narrow aisles made of rock, ice, and snow, which promised sudden death on either side to the tune of 300 feet, I managed to take a few snapshots, including this one, which I took after the storm had passed.
What got me through it all? The promise of gelato and pasta in Italy, of course.
* Although, I reserve the right to resurrect old restaurant/food photos when I’m feeling lazy.
** What you see here is a high-resolution scan of a print from a 35mm Canon AE-1.