I see you seeing me

On any given winter morning go inside a spacious public building and you will see groups of people all engaged in the same activity.

They dress in warm-up suits and comfortable shoes, some push strollers perhaps and in small groups they walk laps around the perimeter of the space. As they do this in whatever facility they occupy, chattering back and forth amongst themselves. They may acknowledge other passersby with simple eye contact, nods of the head and waves of the hand.

It happens in the early hours of the day, in such places as University Mall, UVSC campus and the indoor track at the city recreation center.

The reason why people would do this seems obvious; to get their daily exercise in a climate-controlled environment when the weather is too severe to bear. But there may be a very different stimulus, and I would contend that there is a stronger desire for these participants to pursue these walkabouts which I term ‘the social interaction factor.’

For most folks, the pursuit of physical fitness may be all well and good, but for a large portion of the indoor walking crowd I believe the fitness benefits are incidental. Truly dedicated fitness freaks don’t let weather or a need for companionship interfere with the demand to fit a proper workout into their day.

Social interaction may, at its essence, be a perfectly fine reason to do anything. However, it is the social interaction in a particular setting or any other pretext under which people gather, that is REALLY telling. These social contexts allow for the implanting of a self-conception of one’s identity (that may or may not be genuine) into the minds of one’s peers. The hope is that this perception will then be referenced when thinking or speaking about them in their absence. Otherwise why not just arbitrarily decide to meet and do something else, like sit, in a circle, legs folded, facing one another, making fart noises with your armpits.

This not-so-profound observation became apparent last Sunday as Ben Paz, a staff photographer and I, trolled up and down Park City’s historic Main Street, looking for interesting scenes to photograph from the Sundance Film Festival.

The sidewalks were crowded. You couldn’t swing a dead cat by its tail without striking a tourist. But it was a different type of crowdedness, sort of a kinder, gentler type.

Walking laps up and down the crowded Main Street area of Park City in small, intimate groups, bantering among themselves, the masses of strangers make eye contact with all and acknowledge each other with nods and waves.

In essence, they look to see you seeing them, and that’s the whole point. Granted, there may have been some who are “in the industry,” some who really are dedicated indy-film buffs and others who are really into the club scene. But those don’t account for the total sum of on-hand pedestrians.

After watching this for a while, I asked Ben, “What if we were to make a documentary film that studies the allure of Sundance, and then submitted for entry in Sundance?” His eyes lit up and he said, “That would be like holding up a mirror to a mirror. Would you see eternity?”

I think it would be like making anti-matter, in that it would be anti-art, dark art. Dark art… I like that one.

After two hours observing a scene that wasn’t high art, high fashion, or high culture, rather the high posturing and transient voyeurism, we had seen all we cared to. Better yet, we had been seen, seeing others, being seen, doing that, whatever that is. So, mission accomplished, I guess.

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