Friday, October 21, 2011

In a Melancholy Mood

Wyndham Suite 1406, 2005

I couldn’t seem to get the old Duke Ellington song In a Sentimental Mood out of my mind yesterday. Only for some reason I kept thinking that it was called In a Melancholy Mood because the tempo of the song is so slow and languid.
We photographers can be a moody bunch. "A study in brown," my father would have said. We spend a lot of time alone making and working on our photographs. We frequently do our best work when we’re not distracted by the presence of other people. We used to spend a lot of time alone in darkrooms. Now we spend a lot of time alone in front of computer screens.
Austin-based photographer Kirk Tuck wrote about this yesterday in the course of asking the rhetorical question of why we photograph what we do. Tuck suggests that some of us are drawn to scenes that “could be construed as an attempt to cheat death, or at least catalog the existence of something before it disappears. At many times the thing we choose to photograph has no more resonance to us other than its emotive ties to time that’s already slipped past.”
To be sure, some of us are drawn to decaying places because we actually do want to document them before they’re gone. But I suspect there’s also a part of us that's drawn to places that reflect our own loneliness and perhaps our own sense of life that’s already left the scene.
For those of us who travel alone a lot, is there anything sadder than an empty hotel room in an old hotel? Wyndham Suite 1406 was taken at an old theatrical hotel in New York that was our favorite for years because of it’s excellent location, it’s reasonable prices and its small and colorful staff, most of who had been there manning the front door, the desk, the switchboard and the elevator for decades. The décor got locked in sometime around 1960. The air conditioning was little more than an intention. The rooms were big and always clean and neat. But it also wasn’t unusual to have to prop up the leg of a table or the corner of a bed with a phone book. I met Ali McGraw in the lobby of the Wyndham. I’m told the Cassavetes lived in Suite 1406 for a time. It was that kind of place. One wishes that the walls could have talked, for they’d have had great stories to tell.
Georgian Terrace 805, 2010

The Georgian Terrace, on the other hand, was once a grand apartment house for Atlanta’s well to do. By the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was spending a lot of time in Atlanta The Georgian Terrace and its surrounding neighborhood had fallen on hard times. There was talk of demolition. Eventually a developer bought the place and turned it into an ostensibly all-suites luxury hotel. I’ll give them credit for having cleaned the place up. But as far as luxury goes, I don’t think I've ever stayed in as depressing a room as I did at The Georgian Terrace. If you walked into this room on even the sunniest day, you couldn’t have imagined that Duke Ellington would have thought of anything but a melancholy mood had he been there.


  1. I like this post so much that I'm not even going to mention the sentence with three grammar violations. I have crossed over that invisible boundary where everything now seems to have a bittersweet quality, as if it's already fading into the past as I experience it. Not good.

  2. Beautiful story, I find myself in some lines ...
    most o the beautiful melancholy moment I remember are located in hotels rooms when I was lonely.
    Some people aren't able to stay lonely.
    Sometimes I find that is a good thing to be there lonely with time to spend only for myself!
    The most beautiful and creative shot I have taken were taken when I was lonely!

    My two cents!