If the photo is warm, cozy and fuzzy there has to be a bear involved somewhere. In Bangkok a couple of years ago there was a craze for the teddy bear and it certainly made a change from all those elephants. Every shop had an assortment of bears — and so did one or two cafés and restaurants.
My featured image (above) shows what can be achieved by the judicious use of a bear. There’s nothing like a large teddy for making the lone diner feel less lonely — and therefore more likely to sit down and order something from the menu, perhaps honey on toast.
Sure, there are some disadvantages. Accommodating large bears tends to eat up the available space for customers, but at least there’s no danger of the customers themselves being eaten. The very existence of the teddy bear is symbolic of the fact that human beings have brought large chunks of nature under control. We haven’t quite mastered all the microbes, but bears — though fierce — are a pushover.
There can be little doubt that we all enjoy what I’ve called a “warm, cozy, fuzzy feeling” whenever we get the chance. I know it’s probably frowned upon in artistic and intellectual circles, where the artist or thinker is supposed to focus on topics that demonstrate greater social responsibility. But I would argue: it’s part of life, isn’t it? Why leave it out in street photography?
A Surfeit of Cuteness
Because everyone occasionally chases the warm, the cozy and the fuzzy, there’s been an epidemic of cuteness, emanating largely from Japan but then spreading throughout the entire civilised world: cute dogs, cute cats, cute children, cute everything. I’ve even seen cute crowd control barriers with rabbit ears (Japanese of course).
In real life, bears are not always cute, as such, but they can certainly look cuddly as long as they don’t stand on their hind legs and bare their teeth in an ugly snarl. Apply the epithet “teddy” — acquired when Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt spared a small bear while on a mission to shoot its parents — and you have cuddly in spades; warmth, coziness and fuzziness “par excellence.” And with a bit of artistic license in the design, you can have cuteness too.
A Question of Taste
The question for the street photographer is this: how can you incorporate “warm-cozy-fuzzy” — the so-called “feelgood factor” — into your pictures without falling into sentimentality and triviality? Can you do it without resorting to cuteness, without showing poodles, persian cats or (especially) teddy bears? Is such a task impossible?
The triggers for “warm-cozy-fuzzy” are things like: enclosed spaces, familiar domestic items, human smiles, anything signifying warmth, conviviality, and togetherness. These triggers can go a long way in compensation for the absence of a bear, although they probably don’t go far enough.
In the image below, I’ve included most of the above-mentioned triggers: five people enjoying a cozy meal on Koh Kret (a river island in northern Bangkok). I took it after eating at the same restaurant, where customers can dangle their legs over the water while downing a few beers (beers! not bears).
That’s the trouble: it was I who was feeling “warm-cozy-fuzzy” but the image doesn’t really communicate the same message. The enamel cups look hard and uninviting, the pots are empty and no one’s smiling. The image simply doesn’t meet the spec.
Does the next one get any closer (below)? As you can see, it’s of a child asleep, cradled in mother’s arms, riding on a bus. Yet even this doesn’t seem to meet the criteria I’ve set. It doesn’t give you the absolute certainly of complete safety which is vitally necessary for the “warm-cozy-fuzzy” vibe. The baby’s head seems to be perilously close to the metal edge of the seat, despite the parent’s protective arm.
We really need more ingredients. Besides domesticity and enclosed spaces, we need to add some happy words — like “happy,” for example — together with some gesture of affection and a display of patience. Here they all are, in the photo below. The light was fading, but it’s the best I can do until I do better.