My Inspiration, The Quotidian

Carbon County, Wyoming, from the truck window. Rolleflex 3.5, Ilford

 

I have some vivid memories that I hope never fade away. I suppose I should write about them…to help preserve them in my mind forever. One of these memories is a beautiful scene I came across while I was riding my bike in college. I was a sandwich delivery girl for a stint, and I had just delivered to a house on the east side of downtown. It was at one of the farther ends of my delivery radius and upon arrival to the house, I realized I had forgotten a sandwich in their order. No problem, I would go back and get it – they said they would wait. On the way back to the sandwich shop, I was heading west. The sun was setting behind the city skyline and it was a perfect summer evening. The heat of the afternoon had surrendered to a warm breeze as the purple shadows crept in between golden beams of a tired summer sun. The breeze cooled the sweat on my forehead and down my shirt as I pedaled. I remember the feeling of this weather so perfectly. It was like playing in the front yard with my brothers when I was little, our bare feet ripping out the green lawn as we tussled through it. It was like camping at our favorite river spot catching bluegill while my dad took the fish off my line. Like a Friday night in high school, driving out to a house party on a county road. All of my best memories seem to have occurred on nights like this one.

I was lost in thought when I came to the house. Once I saw them, time seemed to slow. There were two men and a white house. The house was a small square, freshly painted. It had a front porch that stretched across the tiny width of the structure. The porch had no railing, the wooden slats just dropped off about three feet above the dirt yard. Two white pillars supported the overhang on either side. There was a porch swing to the far right, and a small chair just right of the front door. In the chair sat an elderly black man facing out to the street. His hair was neatly kept, peppered with the same rich silky gray that speckled his beard.

There was another man in the scene. Another elderly man – he was white, like the white version of the black man, only his hair had gone stark white and his beard matched. He was down to the right of the black man, perched on the floor of the deck, one foot on the lawn and the other swinging as he as partially faced his friend. His right hand was at rest on his right knee, which was mostly pointed at the black man, and his left hand was supported by his index finger and thumb on his left leg, like one would put a hand on their hip. They were so at ease in the summer evening. “Visiting.” That’s what they were doing. That’s what people in Nebraska do. They visit each other. I always love hearing my grandma use this word. A verb completely devoted to popping by someone’s house and chatting.

There was one more very important part of this whole scene. The dress. A slender white wedding dress was hanging from a stud in the top of the deck roof. It was near the edge of the deck and when the light breeze came, it gently swung over the deck floor and over the dirt lawn. It swayed like a pendulum breaking the rays of the evening sun, back under the roof, back out over the lawn, back under the roof. It was like a projection from the universe, a sliver cut in the fabric of time. A slit infinitesimally small and I was the serendipitous chosen – the one who ambled along at the perfect instant in time to peer through and view the magic beyond. The richness of the textures…the strands of hair and beards. A dirt lawn turning purple with shadow. White lace in the golden sun. Painted wooden slats. Brown sweaters. Worn leather loafers.

I wasn’t pedaling anymore. I had stopped in the street, my body turned toward them across the frame of my bike, leaning into my handlebars. How long had I been standing here? I mentally rummaged through my bag for my camera. I could picture it sitting on my desk at home. My phone was somewhere but I would have to remove my bag and dig for it. The moment was slipping, and just like that, the slit closed up with me on the other side groping for time. I exhaled. The white man turned and waved at me when he saw the black man’s gaze move to the street. I smiled and waved back. Put my right foot on the pedal and turned to check for cars before jumping back on the street.

I’ve lamented not having a camera at that precise moment for years now. Six years, to be exact. But I suppose that’s the magic of the whole mess. Did it happen as I remember? Does it matter? Perhaps a photograph would bend this memory into a reality much less wondrous than the one I keep squirreled in my mind. I’m not an obsessive person by nature, but there is one thing that I’m a bit infatuated with – the lives of other people. I had tried to describe the allure to one of my old roommates – my sheer enjoyment of riding my bike through the streets after dark and being able to peer into the warmly lit windows of hundreds of everyday, Lincoln Nebraskan Americans. “It’s like a snapshot of our time,” I tried to explain to him, “A raw, candid portrait of what it is to be alive in this town, in this time, during this millennium.”

Somewhere outside Shoshone, Wyoming. Pentax 35mm, Kodak Gold

 

I’m not afraid of missed chances to document moments now, and I have two old men and many amazing moments to thank for that. I take my camera with me everywhere and a much more romantic part of me believes that the moments I’m able to capture are the ones I’m meant to capture. Often I may go into a photo project with some loose ideas of what I want to create. But I quickly realize once I interact with my subjects, it becomes something entirely different, and we ought not to fight against this flow once it begins. We’re in these moments together, creating, experimenting and it produces something much better than I could have imagined – it tells a story.

People often ask me who my favorite photographers are or who inspires me as an artist. Of course I’m inspired by photographers who came before me and other artists in my industry, along with music and beauty and all of that good stuff. But the truth of it is, my greatest inspiration is the effortlessness of the quotidian. The fly-over moments. It’s the sonder – that is, the realization that every single passerby is living a life just as vivid and complex as my own. Imagine!

 

So, my friends, here’s to this next year of creating and experiencing…this next season of inspiration and light. Here’s to less scrolling through my Instagram feed and more attention paid to the moments that really prop me up straight and gesture to be etched in time. To the moments that evoke. Here’s to two old men on porches in summer evenings, “visiting.”

 

A fall evening at home with the garden in pots. Livermore, Colorado. Pentax 35mm, Kodak Gold

 

 

Junebug at home in Livermore, Colorado. Rolleiflex 3.5, Ilford

Lucas mowing the lawn, summer 2018. Rolleiflex 3.5, Ilford.

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