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In This Kansas City Show, A Photographer Crams A Year's Worth Of Moments Into A Single Second

B.A. Van Sise
One Second
Photographer B.A. Van Sise photographed this man in a New York City subway after midnight in April 2018 as part of his series 'One Second.'

A little boy in traditional Italian clothing twirls while hanging onto the skirt of his mother's 18th century peasant dress. The two are in a Columbus Day parade in New York City, and photographer B.A. Van Sise figured it was the best shot he'd get that day.

After receiving a box of 35 mm film as a gift, Van Sise, who shoots for Atlas Obscura and Buzzfeed, set a challenge for himself: Take one photo a day with real film. The box contained enough for one year.

With the shutter speed set to 1/350th of a second, an entire year's worth of photographs would roughly total "One Second," the name of the exhibition of that work at the Kansas City Public Library.

"Being forced to be contemplative about every moment of every day and to make one picture a day and try to make it story-telling, and also try to make it good, slows you down so much and it makes everything so meditative," Van Sise says.

The little boy, it turned out, was not the best shot he could have gotten that day, but he allows himself no do-overs. Just after the parade, he ducked into a Chick-fil-A for a drink.

"A couple walked in in their full wedding attire to get stunt-married at Chick-fil-A on 42nd Street. And guess what picture I didn’t get to make?" Van Sise says. "My whole last year, and a lot of this year, have been defined by the things that I've missed, because I’d already made a picture." 

Credit Anne Kniggendorf / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3

Naphtali Faris, a branch manager in Missouri's Mid-Continent Public Library system, went to high school on Long Island with Van Sise. She admired his work and wanted to bring “One Second” to Kansas City.

She views each photo in the collection as a story on its own but likes how the series works together to create a glimpse into an entire year.

When Faris' library system couldn't fit the show in, Faris suggested it to the Kansas City Public Library.

"I thought it would be a fantastic mash-up of visual storytelling and the stories that already reside in the library," Faris says.

For Van Sise, telling stories in this manner has been a challenge, but well worth the extra thought.

He says he thinks he'll continue the one-shot-a-day project indefinitely. He has come to see it as a philosophical endeavor — life-defining, even.

What feels defining is not the taking of the photos, it's the anticipation of taking them.

He says, "I do not spend the majority of my day looking through a lens; I'd go crazy, and I'd miss my life. I've only got the one and precious life, and I'm not going to waste it."

For the most part, Van Sise says he knows when and what he’ll shoot, then he does it, and that's it.

Credit B.A. Van Sise / One Second
One Second
One of the images in B.A. Van Sise's 'One Second.'

The photographer has never owned a smart phone, but he thinks about the large portion of the population that seems to measure life by photos taken rather than by experiences lived.

He meets smartphone photographers who have "10,000 photographs, no way to keep track of them, no way to see through them, no way to understand what their life is, so they've created this record of a life they haven’t lived," he says.

And if he'd been walking through the subway at 12:01 a.m. — into a fresh day and new opportunity to get that one shot — staring at a smartphone, he most likely would have missed King Tut.

Determined to get the shot, he chased the increasingly agitated man, who Van Sise later learned was a male stripper.

"And I'm literally holding the camera up watching him yell at me, when he gets like really close up to me, and he thunders at me in his loudest drill-instructor voice. He said, 'You are a peasant and I am a god.'" 

That photo is included in the exhibition.

"One Second" through January 5, 2020 at the Kansas City Public Library at 14 W. 10th Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64105. 

Follow KCUR contributor Anne Kniggendorf on Twitter, @AnneKniggendorf.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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