Most people see beauty in nature, but some people have the ability to see beauty in a big city and it’s people. I thought of this as I was travelling on Calgary’s C train this morning heading towards downtown. The sunlight decorated the previously drab walls of the downtown library with interesting amoeba shapes, caused by the reflections of the adjacent windows. I wonder if architects plan for these shapes or if they are just a happy coincidence. This surprise, caused me to look up from my cardboard cup of scalding hot tea and notice more things around me. I see a striking woman in a head scarf and long flowing pants with her two children struggling to keep up with her long strides and I can’t stop staring at her white clean, pointed shoes. I see a man with a large purple growth on half of his face and think about a documentary that I just watched called Finding Vivian Maier.
It was the true story of a man who purchased cases of previously undeveloped film. He discovers that the photographs were taken by a deceased woman named Vivian Maier. She was a prolific photographer who had a job as a nanny in New York. She never married or had children, or showed her work to anyone. But looking at her photographs you instantly know that she had an artists eye. She sees the beauty in the bizarre, in the faces of the ugly and the old. I don’t usually enjoy photographic art as much as I love paintings, but these photos are different. They make me feel something.
Later in the day,I root around in my old box of jumbled photographs and find a picture that my mother took on Christmas morning. It is of my father, shirtless and bleary eyed, assembling a toy of some kind, I am doing a kind of joyful dance. I can imagine my mother, in her floral seventies nightgown and some oversized fuzzy slippers. She would still have her natural dark hair, that she called “cow shit brown”. Soon after this picture she had a miscarriage. Then came my sister, then a divorce.She dyed her hair blonde and remained bitter about my father’s drinking and cheating until the day she died.
But if I look closely, I can see love in my father’s eyes as he looks towards my mother. And yes he was hung over. But I beleive my mother choose this moment to capture for a reason. It is a moment where we were all there together, joyful for at least that instant, the photo proves it. All the lifelong strife they caused each other doesn’t matter any more, even after they are both dead and gone.
I think Vivian Maier was a genius, someone who knew how to make you think about something in a different way.I believe to be able to choose the right moment to take a photograph, the moment where something is revealed- something honest and tender is a difficult art. That is what she made me think about as I appreciated the play of shadows of some tree branches across the stone walls on the way back home. Her art caused me to start riffling through my old photographs, and to find the reflection of love in a picture that I had looked at for years without really seeing.