“I remember well standing at that one window and just watching the flow of life.” ~ Dorothea Lange
“At some point all but the most intrepid — even the most intrepid — photographers are tempted to retreat inside and contemplate the world from their window.” ~ Geoff Dyer, The Ongoing Moment
Lately, I’m not feeling like my usual ‘whip-it-out-on-the-world-super-self’. I’m convalescing in my little house on the lake, peeking out, now and then, at the hustle and bustle of the busy world outside my window. Do you ever feel this way?
Curling up on the sofa, I’ve become pretty good at arranging my blue terry-cloth-covered electric heating pad over just the right spots on my angst-y anatomy. In blatant disregard of the manufacturer’s explicit warning, I mold my heating pad to conform to my will, and my curves, using a drawer-full of colorful scarves and creative positioning maneuvers. Once it’s set, I can’t move without disrupting the entire project. I sometimes sit and read a book for a couple hours, grateful for the deep heat nurturing my neck and shoulder.
I spend a fair amount of time looking at the picture window directly across from my sofa. Although I’ve owned this place for 20 years, I’m noticing this window from an entirely new perspective these days. I notice how the light falls across the lawn just outside the window throughout the day. When the window’s open, I notice the mesmerizing pleasure of watching the simple white curtains furling gently in the Spring breeze. I notice when the neighborhood schoolgirls return home in the afternoon, giggling as they race up the hill in the light rain, flashing their bright, shiny orange, pink and blue umbrellas.
Before I know it, I’m taking pictures of this window. Like, I LOVE this window! Turns out, there’s actually a long tradition of fine art photographers capturing the very intimate beauty of their own personal windows to the world.
In fact, the world’s very first photograph, which was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826, is entitled View from the Window at Le Gras. Alfred Stieglitz, Ruth Orkin, Edward Steichen, Merry Alpern and many more canonical figures created iconic images taken of and through their various home windows.
This experience reminds me of something I have often told my photography students: You don’t need to travel to far-away, exotic destinations to take beautiful pictures — searching for beauty ‘out there’ is not at the heart of creating art. The true artist is able to see and capture the beauty intrinsic in ordinary, everyday people, places and things.
As I explained in my previous post, The Light Speaks, I am experimenting with the idea of “thanking” my pain and looking for the gift(s) it brings. Getting back to basics in my artwork has been one such gift this week. I’m truly grateful for this catalyst to creativity.
When was the last time you slowed down and watched the Parade of Life from the safety and seclusion of a favorite window? What might you see if you did? What might you create?