“Excuse me?” I had been focusing my camera on the sidewalk and a woman stopped as she was walking to address me.
I lowered my camera from my face. “Yes?”
“Everyone’s always taking pictures of this building,” she said. “So, what’s so special about it?”
In that moment, my mind flashed to the myriad of things that I love about this building, and admittedly, one of the things that my mind thinks is, If you have to ask, I’m not sure I can tell you. I look at this building and its characteristics are apparent – one glance and I can name so many reasons why it’s special. This building, like a person, has traits and qualities that are its own, that are unique, that render it both dignified and decayed. From the moment I first walked by this building, I have been drawn to it.
“I can’t tell you why other people photograph this building,” I started, “only why I do.” I gather my words a moment – because I don’t know if I can make her see what I see, or if she really wants to see it. Maybe to her I’m just another crazy person, pointing a camera at an abandoned building. I’m not sure that I care, though. “Do you see those faces up there?” I ask. I gesture to the bearded faces that appear at regular intervals over our heads. “I love those guys. I’m not sure what they’re called – they’re like little gnome faces.” Her eyes flash upwards.
“And do you see that?” I said, pointing to the sidewalk to the right of her feet. “The lettering from the windows is reflected in the shadows on the sidewalk. I think that’s kind of neat.”
She nodded, but her face remained blank. I don’t think she was seeing what I see
“If you go around the corner, you’ll find a wall that has these really neat turquoise tiles. If you’re taking portraits, they make a really cool background – because they have a funky, weathered look to them.”
She thanked me and walked away and I put my camera back in its bag and walked the other direction. I could have gone on for so much longer describing the little nuances of this building I have grown to love. The recessed doorway, the chipped cement, the signs in the window, the intricate details of the molding along the top of the building. Really, I’m not sure they even make buildings like this anymore.
But I accept that I do sometimes look at the world around me differently than some. To me, it’s completely foreign how someone could look at this building and not see what makes it special – but surely, there are people who don’t see it. And those people probably don’t miss that thing, that thing that makes a gnome face seem like a quirky magical wonder, that makes you want to see how it looks at different times of day, when the sun hits it in different ways, when snow falls around it. But I can’t imagine just walking by, not soaking it in, not seeing the wonder, and not finding a smile curl my lips when I see it. It may take me longer to get where I’m going, when I stop every few feet to capture a new sight at a new angle, but I wouldn’t trade it. I would rather be slow, than not see the things I see.
And there’s really nothing wrong with the way that woman sees the world. I’m guessing.
But I’d rather see it my way. I’d rather see the joy in the little details and the magic in unexpected places. I’d rather frame my world as if through a lens, even when my camera is not with me. I’d rather take it all in and see everything and embrace it: chipped tile, gnome faces, shadows, and all.
I can’t imagine my world any other way.