Smile for the Camera

I’ve been spring cleaning lately; not because it’s the season, but we’ve decided to sell our home and move closer to the city. Purging drawers of kids-meal toys and soccer tournament patches is straightforward, along with packing long-forgotten clothing for the donation bins. What has taken far longer is wading through my daughters’ stacks of photos (and which were somehow always printed in double quantities!). Thanks to these treasures, I’ve revisited their early years, ranging from school trips to family holidays. It’s been a happy trip down memory lane.

However, this look-back also clarified what we memorialize. We amateur photographers only chronicle happy moments — whether capturing ourselves as tourists, playoff champions or birthday celebrants — we like to smile for the camera. There may be no better proof that we are optimists than our tendency to happily pose for group photos.

I’m not disappointed by the absence of more unfortunate images, as events that were hard will never be forgotten. It just made me think a little about our inclination to filter our camera lens a bit.

Today, most photo images are digital, which means we’re viewing them online or if you’re highly organized, perhaps in a digital frame slide show. Yet as I cleaned drawers and closets, I couldn’t help but feel a bit more engaged as I had to physically touch and sort through those printed images. Was it simply nostalgia or something more? I don’t have a ready answer but I will admit to having saved 80% of those pictures. Yes, they will move with us and maybe someday get sorted and even organized into an album or digitized for eternity. And on those occasional moments that we’re inclined to look at them, I’ll be happy to focus on the good times.

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You’ve Got that Familiar Feeling…

Is there a more elegant welcome to spring than blossoming trees and shrubbery? Whether it’s the cherry blossoms or dogwoods, those canopies are just begging us to step outdoors to enjoy the warming weather. In our yard, we have a lone – but substantial – lilac bush that climbs over our deck and peeks through the window overlooking the kitchen sink. We can’t take any credit for the perfect positioning, as it was here when we bought this house. The best part about it, however, is what it rekindles. My early childhood home in Oregon (yes, we lived there before it became trendy) had a wall of lilac bushes that may have been the extent of our landscaping. And just one look at our blossoms each spring takes me back to my early self, marching around our backyard and pulling on those lilac branches to smell the flowers up close.

Nostalgia is an interesting emotion. It doesn’t necessarily suggest reliving a moment; it just lets you step into a memory. For me, it’s typically something simple that triggers that feeling. It comes unexpectedly or in anticipatory moments, such as vacationing at the same destination or attending a school or family reunion. It’s an affirmation of what we experienced and a reminder of how far we’ve come.

I think I finally get what Yogi Berra meant when he famously quipped “It’s deja vu all over again.” Nostalgia isn’t a once and done experience. For me, as I enjoy those lilacs over the next few weeks and remember my Oregon youth, it recycles what I’ve thought about each May we’ve lived in this home. Maybe this year I’ll even cut a few branches and bring those memories indoors. Lilacs

Purple Rain, Yellow Brick Road

Thoughtfulness about color is typically associated with creative types. Yet we all think about color when we decide how to present ourselves to the world each day. Whether it’s the color of our clothes, the car we drive or the walls in our homes, our palette choices provide some clues as to who we are – or aspire to be. (I assume this has been on your mind, too, given Prince’s passing and his love of all things purple.)

Mark Twain is credited with observing that “clothes make the man.” I was reminded of this recently by a young man’s wardrobe choice, although not a celebrity and we never saw his face. We were walking to a restaurant around 8:00 p.m. on a Friday evening, just as most stores were closing, while visiting Portland, Maine. As we were rounding a corner, a beauty salon caught our attention, as its lights were still on. I glanced inside, which was challenging as half he windows were obscured by frosted film. The salon’s décor was a simple black and white. There was just one customer and his stylist. The man wore nondescript jeans. But what caught my attention were his shoes – a wonderfully optimistic pair of marigold colored Converse sneakers.

It’s not often that you see yellow shoes. Okay, so this was the Maine College of Art’s backyard, so creative souls inhabit the neighborhood. But it was a chilly, early spring evening so this lovely splash of color couldn’t help but bring a smile to my face with all the possibility it communicated. We associate yellow with optimism and cheerfulness.  Yes, warmer days are on the horizon; tomorrow is another day; be brave and live boldly. All those positive sentiments came to mind prompted by a two-second glance at a pair of jaunty sneakers.

Moral of this story is to remember to occasionally try and observe what’s around us as we hurry from place to place. With every visual impression there is a possibility of an idea. Most won’t be inspirational, but some will cause us to think broadly. And some will be worth snapping that quick picture to rekindle – or share – the moment.

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Take a look around…

Years ago, I remember attending a presentation by a National Geographic photographer who advised us to “take a look around” and literally turn away from the obvious photo subject to consider other perspectives. And, he promised, a better picture would emerge. Applause to Bowdoin Museum of Art for taking a look around, and instead of assembling a predictable exhibit of home state Maine’s glimmering seacoast, their gallery show is titled “Night Visions” and showcases works of art representing the mystery of darkness. The show spans several centuries and features mixed media – vintage photography of NYC evenings, a rich array of paintings, woodblocks and sculptures, culminating with a 21st century video reminiscent of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”

Although visiting museums may not be on your “must-see” sights while vacationing on the Maine coast, think of this detour as a way to avoid sunburns or outlet shopping. This little museum does not charge admission, by the way (donations warmly accepted). Just sharing a little carmen sense; hope you get there!

Bowdoin Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine
Bowdoin Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine