I love that there can always be a moment of beauty in an ordinary day. For me it’s seeing the thinnest sliver of moon through the trees at twilight, or watching my apartment transform from a cluttered space into a charming cottage under the influence of afternoon sun. All it takes is just a second of beauty to make the rest of my day worth living.
After my dad passed, I found his Nikon SLR camera in a closet at Mom’s apartment. Dad was a commercial artist by career, a watercolor painter at heart, and an intuitive photographer who knew how to capture perfect moments of beauty. In the days before digital cameras he always had his Nikon handy, always looking for a subject. He took mainly transparencies, or slides as they were called back then. Weathered seaside shacks, flowers, laughter, a lot of sunsets, each one the perfect composition of an artist. In those days before the instant gratification of everything digital, we waited for days while the slides were sent to Kodak to be developed. When Dad brought them home we gathered in the kitchen to watch his latest show, image after image projected on the white refrigerator door.
When I found Dad’s Nikon I knew I had to continue his legacy and capture beauty like he did. I learned how to use the light meter, found his collection of magnifying lenses for close-ups of sand grains and lichens, bought a zoom lens, studied F stops, apertures and exposures. I never mastered these skills as well as Dad, but for years I brought the Nikon everywhere and took some great photos.
I fell in love with the American west in 1987 when a friend and I drove cross-country from New York to the Four Corners – the spot where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet. We stopped at the Anasazi White House ruins of Canyon de Chelly (pronounced ‘Shay’) located on Navajo lands in Arizona. The ancient village is built into a massive, shallow cave. I’ll never forget that place. Silent except for the wind. Yellowed corn stalks beside a tiny hut. Massive sandstone belling out over the cave. Dried rice grass rubbing on weathered stone spoke the language of the canyon to me. I had to get that shot. Crawling on all fours and holding my breath, I snapped again and again trying to get the grass into focus as it shook against stone in the wind.
When the trip was over and my slides were developed, I couldn’t wait to see the ones from Canyon de Chelly. They came out okay, but they didn’t speak the language I heard in the canyon. I took hundreds of pictures but I didn’t need them to remember my trip. I captured the moments with all my senses and they became a part of me. I will remember that trip every day of my life, just like I remember my dad.
Canyon de Chelly is not just an artifact where people lived long ago, it’s a village where some Navajo still make their homes, carrying their legacy forward. It’s a lot like my own home filled with me and my partner and our cats, our books, family heirlooms and photos, and our past memories which cannot be cataloged or seen.
And every afternoon the sun passes its hand over the rooms in my home. The light is constant and reliable; only the angle changes with the seasons. Each object seems to allow itself to be captured at its best, reminding me that the ordinary things in my life have their own sentience, and can be beautiful.
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