There is an amazing photograph of Mia Farrow from the Seventies that I sometimes find myself thinking about. It has nothing to do with Farrow specifically, but still its details come flashing through my memory at the oddest moments.
The first thing about the picture is that it isn't some glossy celebrity shot, meant to frame stardom or some dream of glamour. The subject certainly isn't Farrow's fame. This is candid, yet uninvasive in a way that a paparazzi photo could never intentionally be. Her glance isn't the typical self-conscious look of an actor being photographed either. Here we find someone turning, not to a camera, but within a moment, simply being. There is no predominant gaze or responsive pose. There is a lack of voyeurism or fetish. Perhaps what makes this stand out from the vast supply of images we encounter all the time is that the mystery, here, isn't one of desire.
There is a plainness. There is an authenticity that would be hard to wrangle out of even the most naturalistic photo journalism. There is, in those muted coffee tones, nothing that overtly calls our attention. We might only be passing. The wood of the misaligned chairs, the table cloth that seems to continue out the window (or doorway), the conversation of the man in the background--all of these lend themselves to the most undramatic of moments. The room is quiet, we feel, an echoing space, and cool enough for scarfs.
And yet there is momentum in the somewhat jittery and slightly out-of-focus composition. Two details stand out, for me. First there is Farrow's cigarette, burning, it seems, in two places at once--giving a sense that we are witnessing something imperfect and incomplete, an aperture in-between one moment and the next. Second, there is the man's wristwatch, only slightly in the background, but catching the coolness of that light, perhaps from a second unseen window.
We are moved to consider what happens next. Perhaps the subtle transience of such a quiet moment is the most startling thing.