27 June 2009

Beautiful things in humble places

The lace wall hanging reminded me of my grandmother.
“Blessed are those who see beautiful things in humble places.”

My grandmother was one who loved beautiful things or beautiful places. Even now, years after her death, I think of her first when I see a delicate flower, the flash of a butterfly or a landscape that deserves a moment of reflection. When my grandparents made a trip across the US and up the West Coast I received gifts from significant stops along the way. Each gift was a memento, not a costly treasure. It was her way of including me on their journey. Each one was in it’s own little box with a tag or note to explain its significance.

Years later, on one of my trips back from Africa, I showed my grandmother some of my photos. She wanted to hear the stories behind each one, knowing that I had specially selected these to show during my travels. She noted the splashes of colour on otherwise barren landscapes, the joy on children’s faces, the commonality of love between a mother and child. She laughed out loud at some of the stories and sensed the emotion in my voice at others. She asked the names of people in photos with me or of those who showed up more than once.

I had photos of signs warning of elephants crossing and of a baboon sitting on my truck. I showed her the face of the woman who had crocheted the tablecloth I had brought her and a sea of black faces of children who had crowded round at the roadside market.

Some photos were meant to grab attention. One showed a bright green plant pushing up through a dusty cement slab, the only spot of real colour in the photo. Another showed a kid in a bright red shirt, just long enough to cover “what was necessary”, everything else being black, brown or dusty. Close ups of the intricacies of woven baskets, carvings on drums and veggies in the market showed the texture, patterns and essence of Africa.

“You capture beauty in the most humble of places,” she said. No better commentary on my photography has ever been spoken.

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