This is a photo of one of my best friends, looking at one of my favorite paintings. The friend is “Brian”, and the painting is “The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in the Morning light”, by Claude Monet. The photo itself was taken on 35mm film using an Olympus XA camera, a point-and-shoot camera manufactured in the early 1980’s.
Film and paint. Attempts to capture the transient, to pin places and faces and light up against the wall and hold them there by their shoulders, sometimes by their throats. I snapped the shutter and continued on, content not to know what’d I’d gotten, if anything.
It’s an exercise in humility to not take another and another, to not adjust the angle of an elbow or to wait for better light. I’ve known the painting since college, and have known Brian first on the east coast, then in the southern-middle of the country, and now on the west coast. This was just one afternoon we all existed together in the same room, the camera a happy luxury. The camera itself is not fully manual, and offers less exacting controls of the settings than is ideal, which is exactly why I love it.
Monet wrote that “Everything changes, even stone”. I can look at this photo and remind myself of that, and of my relationship with life. The light on a single morning and the way it falls across a wall will not be the same the next day. My friend may see this painting again several times in his life, but his pose when viewing it will likely be different each time.
This static, less-than-perfect snap of this specific moment reminds of the value in that, of the simple and clean worth of perspective. The point is not to try to constrain and manipulate the world to my own ends, but to appreciate my presence in it. If I do not like myself, I can always change. “Myself” is the one thing I do have control over, the rest is just whatever develops when processing the roll.
It’s possible to go on in my darkest moments because I know, in those moments especially, that the worth lies in perspective. Air or ink, heavy or weightless, whatever form it takes the moment is still mine and is therefore unique, and accordingly worth capturing. I will never know what Brian was feeling when he took in the painting for the first time that day, just as he will never know the weight I had attached to it by that point. But it’s enough to be around when these sort of moments happen, and this photo reminds me of that.