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Spontaneity After the Toil

OUR guide, Shotgun, led us deep into the old northwest silver mine. We followed him closely, listening to his tales about the mining life. It's not easy work, and many photographs of miners seem to illustrate that conventional idea: The mood of the picture is heavy and somber; the miners are tired and dirty.

Yet this photo by Monitor photographer R. Norman Matheny shows something very different. The mood is light and laughing, and the central element is a woman miner.

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She radiates confidence, energy, and an obvious comfort with her environment, but more important, she exudes spontaneity. Why does that seem so surprising?

Webster's defines the word spontaneous as: ''Acting in accordance with or resulting from a natural feeling, impulse, or tendency without any constraint, effort, or premeditation.'' In other words, the exact opposite of what most people are on film.

Cameras often bring out unease and stiffness. Yet this shot captures a playful gesture with no inherent artifice or premeditation. This image is the essence of spontaneity.

Matheny clicked his shutter at the moment the woman miner was responding to a comment by her friend.

Naturalness in a photo enables the viewer to feel more a part of the moment. If done well, one feels as though a slice of life has been captured.

The position of the woman as she faces the camera emphasizes that she is the main feature of the photo. Our eyes, however, naturally follow the line of her outstretched arm as she grasps her friend's face. His bashful grin and foreground position draw our eyes to the right of the frame. He is clearly the secondary element, but his arched stance and expression hold our attention for a moment longer.

Matheny photographed the woman early one morning in 1978, as she was coming off her shift. No doubt she was tired, yet she reflects an inspiring sense of good-natured fun that seems to surpass the toil around her.

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The work of a miner fun? Well, it certainly looks like it can be.

I wonder what Shotgun would say?

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