Memories behind the lenses and brush strokes.

I love taking pictures…of people taking pictures. Not just anyone. People I know. It’s exciting to capture the moment of experience, the moment when someone finds something so interesting they’d like to keep it. I remember being there with them, and sneaking the pic. My family is used to it by now, so they usually wave me off when they catch me. I remain undeterred. There’s no winning without trying.

This picture taken at Big Fork in Montana is only precious to me now because I remember the people in it, and being part of that group and experiencing it together. The view attracted us to the spot, but the memories aren’t about the water, the trees, the sun, or the rocks. They’re about the people.

Big Fork, Montana.

I also don’t need entire bodies in my pictures, as you can see from the Hollywood Star in this post. Seeing our sneakers instantly reminds me of huddling together to get our feet in the pic, the giggles, jostling, and c’mon’s that accompanied our “star” photos that day. Remembering where we were, how we felt, and what we were doing, is the best part of photos.

It’s rare, but every so often, even if we’re not in the picture I remember and appreciate it. Like when we’d spent a few days trying – and failing – to see the Hollywood sign through the fog and smog from every go-to lookout point known to man. Then my husband had the now-legendary idea of just getting in a cab and asking the driver to take us to a spot to see it, and did that ever work! We were ecstatic when it came into view. It was the hard-won victory, as much as the breathtaking scene.

One great idea and $22 or $32 later…We saw Hollywood despite the fog!

I’ve had the reverse emotional experience with artwork, where I’ve arrived at a place I’d seen only in pictures. It seems surreal to be there, in it, to smell and hear and feel the wind, and know the place better. The Square of Saint Mark’s, Venice, by Canaletto was a popular work in the 1970’s. I grew up seeing reproductions of it. Standing in St. Mark’s Square on our honeymoon years later, I welled with tears, realizing that I now knew what was on the other side of that pink building if you walked to the water, knew what was on the other sides of the square, and knew how it felt to walk on the stones and dance there with a man I loved.

Canaletto’s The Square of St. Mark’s

The pandemic offered opportunities for many amazing photographers to take pictures of what the New York Times called “The Great Empty”, allowing us to see normally crowded but now empty spaces. The pictures are at once beautiful and heartbreaking, as we see a new view of the bones of the places, but we also know the fear, grief, and anguish that forced people to stay away long enough for photographers to capture these photos.

Monastiraki Square, Athens, Greece (photo by Savvas Karmaniolas)

I wonder what people will think of these empty scenes when they look back years from now. Though we are all changed forever as a result of what’s behind the photos, I hope that many will recall finding the strength they didn’t know they had, finding community in unexpected places, and helping each other through to better times. And eventually, I hope they make and remember new memories of dancing in the many squares of our world.

Paris, France, May 2021. Dancing Argentine couples tango at Tracadero square (photo by Krzysztof Pazdalski)

Phill Singer is in my bathroom.

Some years ago at the Reston Art festival I found myself in front of two pieces I couldn’t leave without: Phill Singer’s Anger Management and Tiger by the Tale. Luckily they fit perfectly in my home office where I saw them daily, and they frequently appeared on conference calls and webinars for several years. They were poised to live a long life there, until renovations following a leaking chimney cap forced them from the wall.

The art was fine, the walls were not. Renovation efforts expanded, as they often do. Furniture moved around, too, as you can imagine it might against a completely blank canvas. When it was time to rehang, the previous location of the two early pieces was no longer available. And by now I’d bought a third: Night Moves.

For a long time, Phill’s work lived in my closet while I tried to find its new “perfect place”. I wanted it to be a trafficked area, or at least a space I used frequently. But most of those spaces held other things that meant something to me. Botanicals I’d gotten as a gift. Photos and other works with sentimental value. Reproductions of Audubons I’d fallen for and decorated around. And while I wasn’t treating these three works as interior design pieces to blend with anything else, I wanted the colors and style of the space to enhance rather than detract from the viewing.

About once every few weeks, usually around the time of a morning shower or long hair-drying experience, it would cross my mind that they would be at home in the master bath. I quickly eschewed the thought, because a) I didn’t want to risk humidity damage even though it’s a pretty big room that never fogs up, b) they should be where others could see them besides me, and c) I didn’t even like the idea of having something so amazing stuck in the bathroom. I felt they were better than that. Surely it would be some kind of slight to put them in a bathroom.

So Phill’s work continued to live in my closet for more months, supporting my “better than that” prejudices. Now, anyone who has spent a minute perusing the Houzz website has likely seen palatial bathrooms bearing unique art all over their walls. Finally, I accepted that, as much as I would’ve liked them to go somewhere else more fitting, putting this art in the master bath was the best chance I had of actually enjoying it each day. I had to get over my idea that a bathroom was somehow less deserving of artwork than other rooms. I told myself I could take them down if it didn’t work out. And let’s face it, that’s better than having them stuck in a closet where I felt remorseful each time I saw them living in their interim-soon-to-be-permanent space.

So into the bathroom my Phill Singers went. To my surprise, this turned out to be the perfect place. Not only do they glam up the room, but I frequently find myself stopping to look at them more closely, or just appreciating them generally. Another wonderful surprise was that, after hanging them, I found I had enough room for a piece I’d wanted but couldn’t fit before: Fatal Attraction. Guess what I’ve asked for this Christmas?

High expectations and high standards are good, and they can help us improve in many ways. Still, if your search for perfection stops you from experiencing things that bring you joy, send those expectations on vacation for awhile. Make some choices that bring happiness today. Now Phill Singer is in my bathroom, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Note: Anger Management image used with limited permission from the artist.

Anything looks good in this frame.

When you arrive at the Farmers Market and they’re still setting up, you know you’re too early. I hadn’t visited in over a year, and hadn’t bothered to check the time. How could I literally have beat the farmers? Well, according to the sign, I was 40 minutes early today, with nothing to do. I say, “nothing”, but there’s always something to do at Lake Anne. Watching the water ripple. Watching geese cruise the lake’s center. Looking at beautiful flowers and plants hanging off private balconies. Watching the sun rise a little bit higher. And window shopping.

So it was that I found myself walking on the lake’s short boardwalk , glancing across at Reston Art Gallery & Studios. In the first window, a small, vibrant abstract lived in a thick gold frame. Even from 20 feet away, I could see that the frame brought out its rich colors. It occurred to me that you could put pretty much anything in that frame, and it would be worthy of your best wall. I kept moving. The next window featured a seascape. Two boats floated close together near a pebbled shore. The unframed canvas wasn’t very large, but it had a reflective quality that drew me in. I could smell the sea air, touch the water, I could walk into it. I wanted to be there.

I continued walking for awhile. On the way back I chose the sidewalk closer to the windows. I wanted to know more about the paintings. I reached the seascape first. The Dorothy Donahey piece looked very different from 2 feet away. The colors and strokes that produced its reflective qualities from a distance looked more pronounced. I still liked it, but the experience of it was different. I liked new things about it. I could see the boats were tethered together and to the shore. One was smaller than the other, I felt they had a relationship. I backed away a few feet, and the reflective quality I loved was also back. Beautiful!

With somewhat less interest I walked on to the next window, and saw the gold-framed work I’d dismissed earlier. But when I got in front of it, I could see it for what it was. Rosemarie Forsythe’s swirls were stunning. Gold, red, and blues moved and glowed in front of me. I hadn’t seen its beauty at all from 20 feet away, not because it wasn’t there but because I wasn’t where I needed to be to see it.

Perspective is everything. And having more than one perspective helps us know a thing better. I now realize I didn’t arrive at the Farmer’s Market early today. I arrived right on time.