Friday, July 3, 2015

A Moment in Time

One of the pleasant surprises of travelling around the world was my discovery of how much I enjoy taking photographs. I originally planned to be taking photos in order to build a reference library for future drawings and paintings, but there were many, many times that I looked at a photo and thought, "That is just a wonderful piece of art," that needed no further intervention on my part.

The Lotus Gate, Jaipur, India

There are many photos that, with more substantial tweaking, became surprise photo hits. Either the light was bad, or the colour was weird, or it was originally poorly framed and just needed to be properly cropped to make it right.

A stubborn arch at Apamea, Syria

I took so many photos that there were some that just got lost in the mix, only to be rediscovered and shown the light of day.

Bibi Ka Maqbara in Aurangabad, India

But there were also some very magical times, looking through the viewfinder of my Canon point-and-shoot, where I just knew. This is not a photograph.

In a tiny lane in Kolkata, the aroma is otherworldly. Spice merchants line both sides of this forgotten alley, and every spice they have ever known sits before them, spilling their scents out before us. There are a few men, crouched in what to my body appears to be a most uncomfortable position, grinding cinnamon bark into powder, adding a delicate brown hue to the dust hanging in the air.
Laura says to our two sons (or maybe to all of us), "Remember this moment boys, because we can't take this home with us." In an act of defiance, Matthew pulls twenty rupees out of his pocket and buys a small bag of cinnamon, which he later carefully tucks into the bottom of his backpack. His clothes will smell delicious when we get home.
Standing beside one of the cinnamon men, Matthew admires and holds his new purchase to his nose. The man looks at Matthew, and then to me, and at that moment I remember that I am have a camera in my hand. I hold it up and raise my eyebrows to offer an unspoken question, and the cinnamon man smiles ever so slightly, and nods. As I bring the camera to my eye, he straightens himself and transforms before me. He is looking through the camera directly at me, directly into me.
This is going to be an amazing drawing, I think to myself as I click the shutter button. Just the one time. In many places, I click that button feverishly in the hopes of getting the perfect shot. But not today.

It's one of those moments where the entire planet focusses to a single, microscopic point, and the infinite nature of the universe is laid bare before me. The Cinnamon Man becomes the master of all things before my very eyes and his contentedness is a metaphor for our travels; as we move from place to place, we are free from the stress of everyday life, and free to reinvent ourselves as we see fit.
The lives we live are a series of moments, and we must not let even one of them pass us by without seeing its beauty and understanding its power.

The photo taken, the understanding is gone, but the memory of it is still there, still guiding my hand several months later as I try to do justice to the Cinnamon Man, and that moment in that tiny alley in Kolkata, India.

Cinnamon Man
24 by 48 inches
Water soluble graphite on board

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