The Depth of a Rain Puddle, Remembered

October 17, 2013

Taken from an unusual angle, this photograph of a boy riding his bike to school in the rain was titled "Splish" when it ran on page one of The Herald in 1991. (Herald File / Bob Eddy)

Taken from an unusual angle, this photograph of a boy riding his bike to school in the rain was titled "Splish" when it ran on page one of The Herald in 1991. (Herald File / Bob Eddy)

 

Every now and then I have encountered a picture-taking moment so utterly incredible that I can’t wait to open the newspaper Thursday morning to see the published result.

One very wet school day in the fall of 1991, I had just such a moment. The photograph I took that day, I consider one of the best images of my career.

I was sitting in my car, with my camera, in Randolph village. Rain was falling at the “quick wiper rate;” it was about 7:30 a.m. and I was hoping to find a student braving the weather, walking to school despite the rain.

A young boy came along Central Street riding his bike while clutching an umbrella for shelter. Climbing from the car, I took a few quick images as he approached on my side of the road.

Coming near, he stopped to adjust his grip on the umbrella, which I now could see was pretty tattered. He struck up a conversation, and I learned he was headed to his mom’s apartment above the old Union Block to get his lunch before proceeding to school.

The Union Block used to stand where Gazebo Park now sits at the heart of the village where Pleasant Street branches off from Main. At street level on the front, there were several shops including the Union Market, a barbershop, and a catalogue store, as I recall. At the back of the property, stairs led up to a long second story porch, from which entrances led to a half-dozen apartments or so. That’s where this lad was headed.

I had always wanted to take a photograph from that second story porch, and now I had my chance.

I sped across town and placed myself at the rail above Pleasant Street in anticipation of his arrival.

Gazing through my lens, directly down to the pavement below, I saw the beautiful overlapping circular patterns created by rain falling from the roof above me. It was into this scene that the young boy rode as he left his mother’s a few minutes later, the fat tires of his bike creating a wake behind as he pushed off toward school.

What I beheld is what you see here, except that the moment is stopped in time for your viewing. At first glance the image can be somewhat confusing. But then, perhaps with the help of a cutline, the pieces pop into place. Here is a boy on a bike, riding through a magnificent puddle, shot from directly above. We can glimpse his hands emerging from under a disheveled black umbrella, gripping the handlebars as well as his lunch in a large white plastic sack.

The broken umbrella has the aspect of a boat’s prow, pushing water to each side as it proceeds through the current. Even a bit of trash in the puddle adds to the composition, echoing the whiteness of the lunch sack.

This is a highly abstract image, a study in starkly contrasted tones of black and white. For me it is a thrilling view of an ordinary moment at the beginning of a rainy day.

Life is a luminous miracle. Now and then, a photograph pulls back the curtain and allows us to glimpse the breadth and depth of that wonder. This image does this for me.

The week I took it was special from beginning to end. I couldn’t wait to see it in print. As I looked at The Herald over coffee, I was transported into the mystery of that rain-soaked morning. Viewing the photograph today, I am brought there still.

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