Favorite Things, 2009
The other morning Deb M. shared a thought:
“For years, I have collected mementos to remind me that I wasn't just alive, I lived. I looked at some this morn. Mission accomplished.”
I left a snarky remark (“Dear grasshopper….”) about the value of letting go of things.
Later that morning I was listening to an interview with artist James Rosenquist. Asked how he'd coped when his home, his studio and his print archives were destroyed in a fire, he didn’t hesitate for a moment:
“I miss my mother’s family scrapbook. And there was an 80’ long mural I’d just about finished for a client that I had to go back and do all over again. But the other stuff was just objects and things. After the fire I found I just didn’t care about things anymore. I’m not materialistic anymore. Losing everything can do that for you.”
Between the Rosenquist interview and Deb’s comment, I realized I was nowhere near as evolved as I thought I was about “objects and things.” There are all sorts of things I’ve collected to say, in so many words, that “I wasn’t just alive. I lived.”
I’ve written here about some of them before. Heck, in one corner of my office alone are:
- Stones from Maine, Martha’s Vineyard, England’s Jurassic Coast, the Pacific Coast and Sedona, Arizona.
- Paper cut-out models of the Radcliffe Camera and Sheldonian Theater at Oxford University.
- A 1954 Picasso ceramic “Hen Subject.”
- A model of the Gerrit Reitveld “Red and Blue Chair.”
- A painting of the Edgartown lighthouse by Amanda Kavanagh.
- Cards from my daughter.
- A photograph I took in Richmond in 1971.
- A miniature reproduction of an Ingo Maurer “Wing” lamp.
I know you’re not supposed to become so attached to things. Deathbed revelations frequently have to do with realizing that life wasn’t about things.
But each of these items has a story. Only a few—the painting, the Picasso hen—have much value beyond the sentimental. But I sure would feel lost without them.
I think this is also why I’m so drawn to photographing places instead of, say, fashion models or pets. Even when my photographs are of very small parts of big scenes, I realize I’m trying to say, “I was here, and looking at this picture enables me to find my way back there and remember some of what I saw and heard.”
I’m pretty obsessive about this, when you think of it. I get edgy if I’m traveling someplace that night be interesting and don’t have a camera with me. It’s as if without a photographic record the memory of having been there will slip away.
So in the end I have to admit I’m as much a sucker for things as the next person. I guess I’d better apologize to Deb for the snarky remark and wipe off those paper cut out models from Oxford. They’re getting pretty dusty.