Thursday, May 30, 2013

Inspiration, Beauty, and Joy

Inspiration, Beauty, and Joy

On April 7, 2013 I began a project.  I don’t consider myself an artist really, yet this felt like art, performance art of a sort.

The idea came to me one afternoon.  I wanted to see through other people’s eyes.  To narrow the focus, I wanted to see inspiration, beauty, and joy as other people saw it.  My method:  cameras.   I hopped on Freecycle and within a few hours I had two working digital cameras that I was not afraid to abuse.  A trip to Home Depot and we brought home long, thin wire and small metal ferrules (crimps) to secure them.  2 pieces of paper, some watercolor paints, plastic covers and voila – I was ready to go. 
My system:  leave cameras out in the open with a provocation for people to use them.  Do not interact – leave the subjects on their own to explore.  Then sit back and wait.  And wait.

It turns out not everyone is a person who stops (see previous blog posting “A Person Who Stops”).   This has been my biggest lesson of this adventure.  (As I sit on the porch writing this, a couple is walking by – she is huge pregnant, probably walking to try and get labor going.  They slowed long enough to examine the sign and see the camera. They did not see me.  Yet even so – they did not stop.   They must be thrilled to be days away from having a child, but they did not stop to document/express it.)

I waited, and I watched secretly through windows.  Cameras were positioned on our front and side gates.  We have loads of walk by traffic – we live on a busy corner.  And people WALKED BY.  Saw the cameras.  Saw the signs.  And kept walking!  This was so hard for me to fathom.  This is a construction I could NOT walk by were I to happen upon it in the midst of my walk.  Even if I were on a bike ride or a jog (which, let’s be honest, I do not jog…) I know that I would STOP!  I have stopped for far less, a penny on the sidewalk!  Yet, people kept going. 

At first I was disheartened.  Then anxious.  Then disappointed. Then I think I would have to say I was incredulous.

Then it happened….  Someone STOPPED. 

I saw them out the front window!!  A man and a woman.  They stopped!  They were taking photos with the front gate camera!!!!  I holler-whispered to David to come witness the big event!!!! The first artists had stopped by to share my vision!!  (For some reason, whenever I am watching someone from inside the house use the cameras I still feel I have to whisper.) 

Then I saw a shopping cart parked on the sidewalk, full of stuff.  “Hmmm, could they be living on the street?” I wondered….  On further examination, we recognized the man: he was the awesome guy who came to our Slip ‘n’ Slide party last year and SLID fully clothed!!!  Yeah!!!  He was back!  We had seen him a couple times since the party – knew he is currently working on a book.  I was excited to see him again and THRILLED that he stopped to use the camera!  I waited, in hiding, until we thought they were done taking photos.  Then I went out to say hello – turns out they were not done.  Drat.  One of the premises I had developed for the project was to leave the people in peace and not interact with them.   But, on hindsight, I think on this occasion it was good that I talked with them.  John (or Shawn?), the man, introduced us to Rose, his girlfriend.  They seemed to be such a good pairing – both thoughtful and intelligent.  I told them they were the first people to stop – and he explained that, had he not met us at our other party, he also would have walked by.  Because he knew us, and the kind of people we were, he felt comfortable enough to stop and use the camera.  They showed me some of the shots they had taken and I love them – up close photos and a gorgeous close-up of Rose, who I could tell really was an inspiration to John.  They explained that one thing that really defines beauty to them is grass – open, inviting, comfortable grass.  So, as I excused myself, I invited them IN, beyond the gate, to the grass.  And that is where he snapped the photos of Rose that I really like – relaxing in the grass. 

John and Rose - front gate

John and Rose - inside black tube

Rose - close up, honest, and beautiful
Rose - relaxing in grass

Of course, after that, there have been more stoppers.  People with dogs.  Kids.  Diverse families on walks.  The guy from Brazil taking English as a Second Language that took really cool nighttime light photos, then left me a note a few days later and I sent him the pics.  The couple David talked with and gave roses to. 

And there have been a lot of people who didn’t stop.  Many who rushed by and didn’t even notice – walking, biking, running, talking to friends or on cell phones.  But also many who DID notice – and chose not to stop.  Noticed, attended, read the sign, looked at the camera, and made a conscious decision to not get involved.  It is those people who baffle, yet intrigue me.  I want to understand and try not to be judgmental.  The woman who really confuses me is the one in the boot (broken ankle?) who walks by often and stopped to use her cell phone to take a photo of the whole project, yet didn’t use the camera on the gate to document anything… 

I have learned a lot by doing this.  Some preconceived negative ideas were crushed – the cameras have not been stolen in almost two months, and I have yet to check the memory cards and discover a photo shot down some teenage boy’s pants.  And other ideas were reinforced – the flowers in our yard are gorgeous, iced coffee on a hot day is truly inspirational, lights at night are amazingly beautiful… 
Dog at night - mystery photographer

Sunny Sunday - mystery photographer of peach tree blossoms

I wondered what the “end” was to this project.  Was it a week, a month??  Was it when the cameras broke?  Was it when I had re-made the signs ten times due to them running in the rain?  When I had used a whole box of Ziplocs to replace the protective baggies?  We took the side camera down once when we thought the rain had busted it, and the neighbor girls asked why it was missing.  Maybe the cameras have become a part of the neighborhood...   As the days grow longer and hotter more people ARE stopping.  The toddler who photographed his mom was adorable.  The guy who made sure his dog was sitting perfectly before he snapped the shot…  I also wondered when I would share this project with anyone – with you.  Did I need to wait until it was over so that I didn’t “spoil” any results? 

So I decided – today I will share.  I will put a few photos on now – add more as we go.  I guess there are around 125 photos as of today, May 30th.  I won’t share them all, many people take a few at a time.  But I will share some – so that you, too, can see Inspiration, Beauty, and Joy through someone else’s eyes.
Clouds on a sunny day - mystery photographer at side gate

June 9, 2013 – time to share a few more photos, stories, and lessons learned.

Lesson 1:  keeping up a project that is outdoors, involves paper, watercolor paint, and electronic equipment is not easy when it rains a lot.

Lesson 2:  sharing a project that is personal and meaningful to you with others doesn’t make it less valuable – it just “shares the special”.

And Lesson 3:  putting up a sign with the name of the blog and little tear off strips of paper with the URL makes the whole project even more excitingly watchable from inside the house!  How many little strips will be missing when I come home from a trip?  Did someone take one today?  Which one did they take (they are all painted differently and I am happy to see that, like I would do if I came upon it, people don’t take them in ORDER!  They choose the one they like and take it!  I love that.)

Ok – so first photo.  This engagement ring picture was taken May 18th with the front gate camera.  

I like that, even though it is blurry, it somehow captures the excitement of the woman wearing it.  I did not see the people and know nothing about them- but I imagine it was taken by her finance.  The next photo on the camera was of a woman standing on the corner waving back at the photographer, but it was too dark to be able to make out who she is.  I think it is the engagement ring woman.  I like that she might be someone who walks by my house and I see every day but don’t know it.  Whoever you are – congratulations and may you have a long and happy marriage.

Photos 2, 3, and 4 – a mom was taking a walk with her kids and they stopped to take photos.  She took one of each child, then the oldest boy got to take one of his mom.  The photo of the mom is the one that I see so much joy in – she looks so happy to be out in the sunshine with these two little fireballs.  David saw them as they walked by and the little boy who took the photo told David, “Thank you for the camera!”.

Taken by her son

Unpublishable photos 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 – this story makes me smile.  We heard a lot of talking the afternoon of May 24 and looked outside to find a large group of people posing for photos.  We peeked at them to try and figure it out – were they high school kids on a field trip?  But no – they were adults.  And they were having fun taking photos!  They took some on one camera, then went to the other camera and took more!!  They got some cute group shots.  About a week later, 3 or 4 women were standing at the side gate looking through photos on the camera.  I watched them secretly from the kitchen window, then I recognized them as some people from the group!  I rushed out to say “Hi” and that I had liked their photos.  It turns out they were trying to DELETE their pictures.  The day they took them they were on a team building activity for work and thought that our house was one of the stops on their scavenger hunt-like event!!  They finished up, went back to the office (nearby) and told the organizer that they had done the photo thing.  “What photo thing??”.  Hahahaha!  It was not part of their event!  I guess some of the people in the group weren’t too keen on having their photos on a website so asked that they be deleted.  They (and I) couldn’t figure out how to delete from one of the cameras, but I assured them I would not publish their shots.  But their story is just too good not to share. I love scavenger hunts!  And to think that our house was (sort of) a part of one is great!

Photos 15 and 16 – nature is inspirational to many people.  Here are 2 nature shots I like a lot – a close up of grass and our garden before it was planted.  Both were taken by mystery photographers April 15th on the side camera.  I like that the garden, even before it produced a single vegetable, inspired someone, gave them joy or they found it beautiful.  I find gardens beautiful, too, for their potential and their generosity. 

Before the harvest 
Last one for now – this photo is a good lesson for me.  I usually do not like power lines.  I wish they could be buried underground and out of the way.  There are big utility poles in the middle of our sidewalks that get in the way, and all of the wires just seem to clutter up the environment.  Then you look at a photo like this…..  See it through someone else’s eyes.  The power lines against the blue sky are sort of amazing, really!  A pattern.  And the circular insulators – those are pretty, too, when you look at the whole picture.  Not only is the whole system functional, but if you squint your eyes or tilt your head it is a line drawing in the sky.

Penrose, South Arlington, VA - power lines paint the sky

More photos another time.  For now I need to paint new signs, troubleshoot some quasi-working cameras, and enjoy the sunshine.

June 20, 2103

Back again after a bit of time away.  We have had heavy rains, which meant soggy “Inspiration, Beauty, and Joy” papers and camera baggies full of water.  First one camera broke…  Then the other one seemed to break, miraculously healed itself, then officially busted.  My pleas for free cameras on Freecycle and Craigslist only yielded one device this time, so we now have one rather difficult camera on the front gate and none on the side gate.  All of these factors have left me less interested in this project than before, but I only have to sit down and load some new photos or look through the old ones like I just did and I smile and get re-inspired. 

Stories:  first I want to share the story of Maria and Julie.  Julie’s grandparents live next-door to us and she visits very often.  Maria’s family rented part of the grandparents’ house.   Julie just turned 6 last weekend, and Maria is 8 (I think).  Their relationship was tenuous at best.  Maria is not the most honest girl on the planet, and Julie is just enough younger than Maria to make her gullible to about anything Julie puts out there.  This combination led to, for example, Julie believing for a year that Maria was in a whole grade higher than she actually was.  It also led to many fights, arguments, much yelling, and frequent tears.  But now Maria has moved.  When I asked Julie about it, she looked sad and said, “But I didn’t CRY.”  “What do you mean?” I asked.  “When Maria left, I didn’t CRY.  Because I wasn’t here.  So I didn’t see her move.”

Maria - self portrait 
Julie - self portrait 

How many relationships are we all in that resemble those little girls’?  Relationships that are a mix of friendship, deception, heart-break, neediness, mixed with a tiny measure of love?   The girls took several photos of themselves/each other, but these are my favorites.  I wonder if they took these when the other was not around, because they seem to capture more honest moments than the “peace sign” photos that they think they look so cool in.  I am guessing they took these of themselves.

Here is a mystery couple.  I do not know who they are, but they make me smile.  I like his headphones, his t-shirt, his “swagger”.  And isn’t her smile terrific?

Check out “Batman at Night” taken by a mystery photographer.  Makes me feel safer just knowing Batman is around my neighborhood.

Early on in this blog I mentioned Kaike, a Brazilian studying English who I met during this project.  He is the guy who left me a post-it note asking me to send him his pics!  I loved finding that note.  And I think his night time photos are super cool.  He told me what he wanted them called, and I apologize for not being able to find the email with the correct titles.  For now, let’s call them “Brazilian lights in Virginia”, ok? 

One more for now.  I adore this photo.  It makes me so curious.  I want to meet the person wearing this shoe.  Who is he?  How many miles has he walked in that shoe?  How often does he walk by our house?  Is his life happy?  I feel like his shoe could tell us all stories of life.  

June 29, 2013

Two beautiful developments in this project since I last wrote.  The first is so lovely, so gorgeous, that I have a difficult time taking it all in.

Our house is on a busy corner.  As such, we often get pieces of litter in the yard – cans, bags, fast food wrappers.  But one evening I noticed a piece of paper that was very deliberately folded – perhaps used to be in the shape of a paper plane – inside the front gate (near one of the cameras).  I picked it up, unfolded it, and read it.  Here is what I found:

Sonnet From a Stranger

I call it “A Sonnet From a Stranger”.  No – it does not follow traditional sonnet structure and I guess it is more appropriately labeled “free verse”, but it feels like a sonnet in its depth and reach.  I was speechless when I first read it – then showed it to David and a friend who was over.  I questioned the validity – was it meant for ME?  Did someone really feel that deeply, compose that beautifully, then mysteriously leave it FOR ME?  Who wrote it?  Do I know them?  Do I have PHOTOS of them from the project?  Is it the “Beauty, Joy, and Inspiration” project that they have found so beautiful – or is it our peach tree, our old rose bushes that bloom so big and smell so fragrant, the off-beat vibe of our house, or WHAT?  I put the poem away and tried not to think about it - but it is always in the back of my mind.  I think it was written for me.  I think it is a message to me - one that I share with you.  A simple message:  our lives impact others.  Invisibly, unknowingly.  We impact those around us in ways we never know.  It is rare that someone takes the time to remind us of that, and I am ever so grateful to the poet who took time to remind ME.  Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

The other development in the project is that I thought it was done.  I was down to just one camera and I didn’t think it worked well.  I had not heard ANYONE stop and take photos since I put that camera out.  It was big, awkward to turn on, and impossible to turn off so you have to wait for it to turn itself off.  That being the system, I figured the battery was dead anyway but was too lazy to go check it.  Oh – and that camera also has a really weird sim card that I didn’t think my computer had a slot for, so I didn’t even know if I would be able to download photos if anyone ever stopped to take one.  Yeah, I was getting a bad attitude…  We were leaving town anyway, so I figured it was time to pull the plug and bring the camera inside.  We took it all down – no more signs, no more cameras.  Then I found a cable that I could use to import the photos and guess what – PEOPLE HAD BEEN TAKING THEM!  Unbeknownst to me, people HAD stopped!!  And they took some joyful photos!  Look at this – isn’t it fabulous???


And look at this little boy!!!  He is on our PORCH, putting something in our mail slot, while someone (presumably his parent) is taking his photo.  Who IS HE?  And WHAT did he deliver to us???  It must have been in a pile of mail one day and I was not observant enough to realize what a special delivery it was!

I really like this photo, too.  It is blurry so let me tell you what it is:  there is a sign on each gate with tear off slips of paper that are each painted with watercolors.  Each slip has the address of this blog so passerby can take one and go home and check out the blog and see the photos.  I love that someone was inspired by the slip or the idea of the blog!

Here are a few more shots for today – photos that make me smile, make me wonder, and make me think.

Mystery neighbors - cool shot with sky

Super duper close up of dog on a walk

Great shades!  Mystery photographers

Little cuties

Elephant planter I bought at neighbor's estate sale then painted purple (you can read about the estate sale in the blog entry titled "New Boots")

Nice couple who took photo, then walked by a day or two later and said,
 "HEY!  You are  the people with the camera!!" as we were gardening.  

There you have it for now.  The combination of “Sonnet from a Stranger” and the realization that people are still actively engaged makes me not want to stop the project.  The camera will return!  I will start the project again soon.  Thanks to the people who STOP!!!


July 22, 2013

The past month has been stressful – illness and death of people close to me.  It also included fun and relaxation – a trip to the beach.  But sometimes when there is sadness and stress, it seems to overshadow happiness and joy.  Thinking back over the time now, I realize that I should have used this project to bring more peace, more beauty, to a dark time.  So I will do that now.  I will share more photos from “Inspiration, Beauty, and Joy” and hope that by sharing I can brighten not only my day, but yours.

I don’t know who the photographer was for this shot, but they see the world as I do – CLOSE UP.  So many of my own photos are extreme close-ups – I see more through the lens of my camera than I do through my eyes sometimes.  Anyway, I like this photo of the top of our front gate.  The swirls of the metal gate provide frames to see the porch through:  the purple steps that need painting, the flowers that were so vibrant this on May day but are now dead from the heat and lack of attention, the old broken picnic table on the porch that has since been given to someone.  But on this day, in this photo, in this photographer’s eye, it was beauty.  

This photo of iced coffee is good for the heat wave we have been having.  I like that the photographer saw joy in her iced drink!  Be it Pepsi, lemonade, iced coffee, and cold beer – who doesn’t believe in the joy of a cold drink on a hot summer day?  

This is a mystery neighbor.  I saw two guys walking away – his friend had snapped the photo.  I like his look – he seems like someone I would like to get to know.  His glasses are funky.  His hair is relaxed and casual.  I have a feeling he could beat me in Scrabble, but I still would like to invite him in to play.  

I know a common phrase is “double trouble”, but don’t these kids look like double fun?  They must have been out for a walk with their parent/s when they had this photo taken.  I like that they inspire whoever took the photo – I think they would inspire me, too!  They look fun to take a walk with.  

A neighbor we hadn’t met before stopped and talked to us the other evening about our garden.  She asked, “What happened to your camera?” (no cameras have been out since we left on vacation).  I explained about the rain and that they had broken and I have a replacement one I need to put out.  I asked if she had taken any photos, and she said “No, I normally walk by in the evenings”.  Hmmm…  That didn’t stop THIS photographer!

This was not taken by our Brazilian friend featured earlier - it's a different glow photographer!

OR this one!

Taken by 3 friends out for a midnight walk in April
Or THIS one....

I call this "Azaleas in the Dark"


Another awesome night light photo

I find it interesting that she was obviously CURIOUS about the cameras…  She noticed they were gone.  She wanted to know what happened…  She physically stopped to talk and inquire.  Yet, she hadn’t used them.  I hope now that she has interacted with us she will show us her view of beauty, joy, and/or inspiration when I get everything set up again.

In the meantime, I leave you with this for now – a failed selfie taken by a bike rider.  I like it, I think because it is so real.  I love that he stopped while on his bike to get involved.  

August 17, 2013

Throughout this project there have been identifiable patterns – let’s call them shoesflowers, and dogs

Shoes – this one surprised me, but I guess it shouldn’t have.  One of the first photos I took to test the front gate camera after I set it up was one of my black J Jill boot.  

My Favorite Boots
I took it not only to test the set up of everything, but also because those boots inspire me.  They are a piece of my wardrobe that can change my attitude when I put them on.  Boots instantly give me confidence when I zip them up.  I walk with a longer stride in my boots.  I own my walk.  That is one of my very favorite things about autumn – it is time to bring my boots back out!  When I took the photo, I thought I was being “unique” by wanting to shoot my shoe.  Color me wrong… 

There was the photo of the well worn shoe I wrote about and showcased earlier.  And there were THESE – shoes, shoes, shoes.  

I think this is 2 friends with similar shoes - one shoe from each friend.  :)

Don't these shoes make you SMILE?

Many people walk and run by our house every day.  I suspect that many of these shoe photos were taken by runners who get joy out of their exercise. 

Flowers – this one I figured would happen.  We have some really pretty flowers in our yard – roses, tulips, daffodils, pansies, alliums, peonies…    They are beautiful!  I am glad that so many photographers agree with me and took pictures of them at various stages.  I showed some flower photos in earlier entries - here are more.

Peony by the side gate - they smell great

Peace and Roses

Frog planter I inherited from my mom

Gorgeous tulip in side yard (disclosure: I was the photographer on this one but used the project camera, not mine!)

Beautiful Dogwood tree across the street - mystery photographer used the side camera to capture the beauty

Rose bush before blooms

Yeah - Spring time is here!  Daffodils!

Front porch planter at night - pansies staying awake late....

Peach tree blossoms - beauty before the fruit

Pansies in the daylight

Mystery photographer close up of the wild flowers

Yellow means SPRING TIME

Pansy close up taken by  John and Rose (see earlier entry)

The red roses near the back gate are a particular favorite of mine.  The bush was there when we moved in and our house is over 100 years old.  I do not know how old the bush is, but I think it was planted before “hybrid roses” were all you could find – bred for their sturdiness and uniform “prettiness” .  I much prefer roses like the ones in this photo – not perfect, but the most fragrant flowers on the planet.  I love when they start blooming in the spring and I can cut them and bring them in the house.  It smells so wonderful when a couple of those roses are in vases!  This photo was taken by an older couple that David saw on a walk.  When they finished taking pictures, David went outside to talk with them and offer them some roses.  While David prepared them with a wet paper towel to keep them fresh, the couple waved down a taxi.  They must have been tired from their walk.  Anyway, David gave them the roses and off they went, we presume toward home.  I like the couple because they make me think of what it might be like when David and I are older.  I like to think that we are a couple that would also take walks and definitely stop and smell roses.

Favorite rose bush - best fragrance you can imagine.  REAL roses.  Taken by couple out for walk (who switched to taxi) 

This is the man - his wife must have taken this photo.

Dogs – this one is also not a surprise.  Loads of people walk around the neighborhood with dogs.  I personally am not a “dog person” but it makes me smile to see photos people took of their pets.  It is cute – sometimes they take 2 or 3 pictures of their dog – trying to get the perfect one.  It seems like dogs bring happiness to many pet owners. 

Close up on PAWS

Out for a walk

Sometimes it takes several shots to find the right angle...

That is it for now – just sharing some themes that have come up in the project.  I have not checked the camera for quite a while - I need to go out and do that!  David reports that while I was out of town recently he saw some people putting the camera back in the bag and smiling.  I am curious what they photographed! 
 Enjoy the day – and may you be inspired by something today.    

September 7, 2013

The end.  Finale.  Done with this photo “Inspiration, Beauty, and Joy” project.  I honestly did not remember what date in April I had begun it, but now that I look back I see it has been exactly 5 months – April 7 – September 7, 2013.  The camera has been brought inside and the signs are down.

Thank you to the people who stopped – neighbors, strangers, runners, bikers, children, adults – thank you.  Thanks for being willing to get involved.  You inspired me not only with your photos, but with your spirits as well.  You did indeed help me fulfill the mission of this project – to see inspiration, beauty, and joy through your eyes. 

Looking at it quantifiably – I used 3 or 4 cameras (all donated from Freecycle – thank you!).  Contrary to my original hypothesis, not a single camera was purposefully broken or stolen (I am so happy to have been wrong on that one!).  One camera is still in working order and will be put away should I need it again for another project.  I went through many signs – each handpainted with watercolor and put in a plastic sleeve.  I went through quite a few Ziploc baggies trying to keep the cameras dry.  Though the project was anonymous, I was lucky enough to meet a few of the participants and really enjoyed that. 

Most notably, participants took over 190 photos.  This fills me with joy!  Some people took multiple photos, but overall almost 200 pictures were taken!  Isn’t that amazing?  There were photos of weather, flowers, feet, smiles, grass, drinks, tennis balls, animals, lights, jewelry – you name it!  If you took one and I did not put it in this blog, I apologize.  There were so many!!

I will miss having the project outside our home.  It became sort of a fixture for our corner I think.  But there will be other projects to come.  This one has come full circle.

Thanks again for inspiring me.  I hope that the project brought some joy, beauty, and inspiration into your life, too. 

In closing, here are a few final photos.  Enjoy (I sure did...). 

Damned kudzu!  This grows on our fence and takes over our plants.

Arlington County Fair!  It is right down the street from our house.  This mystery photographer got a new t-shirt there!

Sarah Sue!!  The first person to get involved who I recognized in the photo.  Made me smile.


Happy Selfie

Miss Hiccup - Japanese clown who stayed with us, and is a person who stops.  

Washington Post piling up...
Great shot of the sun - warm and welcoming

Happy in the Sunshine

Very last photo of the project.  I love it.  She has great nails - and WHAT is written on her pointer finger?
We will probably never know....


Heidi Benham said...

You are an artist in many many ways and continue to bring joy into this world, even when you think no-one is looking.

Jessica Torres said...

Your project ROCKS and makes me proud to call Arlington my home.

Heidi Benham said...

The flip flop photo reads "peace" Isn't that just perfect?

Kathy Hipsher said...

You make the ordinary extraordinary and amazing. My favorite part of all? The sonnet. I'm so glad you did this project! I'm inspired to be someone who stops.