Reframing first jobs

I’ve taken photos since I was a kid. Framing in your subject matter back then was more important. Whatever was captured on the 35 mm negative frame, was what you got back printed on glossy paper. Now you can be as lazy as you want. You can crop a photo on your phone, reposition it, tilt it. Decades ago reframing was a luxury enjoyed by those with access to a darkroom.

Sometimes you can’t see how to frame something until you’ve given it a go. Once you’ve clip out all the surrounding noise, it’s easier to see how the subject at hand can be better positioned. Or redressed, or simplified. Most of you have probably seen before and after framing with portraiture, or with a home remodel. The first shot is flat and cluttered. The second gives the room depth, a room which is now smartened up with clean lines. Reframing makes you see things clearer.

In ninth grade my brother and I attended a boarding school in the Normandy region of France. It was just how you would imagine from portrayals of British schools: strict teachers, old manor homes for dorms, and a short distance from a quaint country village.

The student body, however, was very eclectic. Insurgencies in countries like Lebanon, Iran, Algeria and Nicaragua sent wealthy kids to safer regions of the world. Many had ties to France or relatives who lived in Paris. So a school an hour west of the capital city was a perfect refuge.

There were a few Europeans as well. One classmate was the daughter of a businessman from Milan, call her M. Her typical mode of transit to and from her northern Italian home was by personal chauffer. Where as my brother and I melded in with the general population on a flight into Charles de Gaulle, then bus transit to central Paris–if I remember right to Place des Invalides– where several greyhound style busses waited to drive students out to the country. She went executive class, while we were riding in coach.

One late Saturday afternoon I found myself going through math exercises with M in the salon of the country house that served as our dormitory. What she had in riches she lacked in scholastic aptitude. As I had already been identified by teachers as the student to pair-up with other kids who needed help in the classroom, it seems natural that I was there. The other girls were upstairs giggling and gorging on purchases from a visit to the town that afternoon.

Perhaps she said thank you. Or perhaps she made a self-deprecating remark. In response I said something I had heard throughout my childhood. That when something needs to get done, you dig in and get it done. Everyone has something to bring to the potluck so to speak. I may have listed the treats our roommates were sharing as examples. I may not have. The idea was that there was no need for thanks as tutoring was one thing I could contribute.

She froze momentarily, thinking, and looked at me with a steady gaze as we sat there at the wooden tables where we took our afternoon goute of French bread and chocolate (a most excellent tradition which unfortunately cannot be replicated without crusty baguettes from French ovens). Her first language was Italian and mine English, but it was very clear that whatever it was we were doing that damp rainy afternoon, it had no relation to material things. Nothing I was doing in that space had that type of value.

This was hardly the first time a cultural clash had caught me up short. Cultural clashes were part of my upbringing. I tutored all through high school and college. I taught French University students English during an abroad program in Avignon. But at age fourteen my classmate from Milan reframed my concept of work, clarifying the distinction between cooperative reciprocal work and that done for money.