When Grace learned I kept a blog (I’d mention it over the years but it seems to have floated over her head like a red balloon) she was at first surprised, then horrified (it’s after all a teenage girl’s diary and she was mentioned), and finally, with a sheepish grin, curious. She asked for the website, and after making her promise to give a honest, tooth pulling appraisal, I gave it. The next day, after pointing out a myriad of spelling and grammatical errors, each one like a splinter in my heart, she said she really liked it.
I suppose the same can be said about Grace’s photography. She takes pictures, I know that, have known it for years, but I’d never actually seen her pics. No one had, and she never offered them up. I wasn’t even sure there was a memory card or batteries in that beloved Cannon Digital Rebel of her’s. It seemed as much a movie prop as Pen’s fine point Sharpie or Maxwell’s Magic cards, and seeing it hung from her neck was like observing someone wearing their favorite shirt or sporting a lucky Braves cap. It blended into the scenery.
Then, after reading my stuff and covering several printouts with red ink, she asked if I wanted to see her portfolio. This was out of the blue. I suppose there was a balloon floating over my shoulder as well. After an eager “yes,” she pulled something out of her tattered JanSport backpack.
At first, I was underwhelmed. To call it a portfolio seemed a bit ambitious. It was just a plain manila folder, feather light and very thin. I looked at her doubting.
“Just look.” she said. I’ve never seen her so sure of herself.
I open it folder and found fewer than two dozen color and black and white prints. These are her treasures, her true “zingers,” the cream of the cream of the cream. There were night shots of the city, amazing portraits of strangers, many of her young cousins. Others are of us. I saw June wearing her eternal, misanthropic scowl. Another was of Pen crying, giving the bird with both ink smudged fingers. I smiled at my own candid portrait. I was slumped in the Caravan, my face a bruised Picasso, one eye swollen nearly shut. That was a defining day, a day I woke up one person and fell asleep another.
“They’re good!” I said. Flipping between the photos, I couldn’t stop smiling. Time can be like that, nitrous oxide of the soul, not always, but sometimes. Pains, once thought unendurable, are soothed. Eventually, we learn to laugh at them.
June still lives, I’m happy to say, though slightly thinner and with one less tooth in her head. It was a canine, now left forgotten in a Walmart parking lot in Lawrence, Kansas. That’s as far west as we got the summer before Senior year. And Grace curses now, with the occasional four letter word slipping out every other week or so. It’s what June calls “progress.” Only Pen is gone. True to her word, she moved back to Jacksonville two months after graduation, bunking with a like minded artsy type named Mel. They live in a dilapidated trailer just outside the city. She’s still one of us, texting everyday, usually at odd hours. I think she’s getting lonely.
“So you really like them?” Grace asked, tentative, looking at her shoes, her finger nails, out the van window.
“I love them!”
We’ve shared things before, homework assignments, shoes at one point. But there was a intimacy in this. Let’s play doctor? You show me yours and I’ll show you mine, haha! I asked if I could put some up, creating her own page on American Dysfunctionality. Sometimes it gets lonely with all that extra space.
Grace’s “no” was quick, carrying a finality to it that seemed so uncharacteristic of my friend. Seeing the hurt in my eyes she said that I could use some of her other “ok” pics, she has a folder of them on her laptop and she’d put them on a flash drive for me.
(How will Grace and I will view these last few paragraphs forty year from now? Will they seem arcane relics of the past, appearing to our grandkids the same way Betamax and acid wash jeans appeared to us, either obsolete or entirely foolish. Or will the world have buckled under peak oil, the North Koreans, and global warming? Perhaps, in that post-apocalyptic waste land, digital cameras and laptops will be warm memories, the honeymoon before a slowly decaying marriage and eventual divorce.)
The nearly empty 8GB SanDisk flash drive had only a hundred or so pics on it, all quality work, or at least I think so. Grace, for being so forgiving of others, is a cruel and merciless critic with her own material. Perhaps that’s why it’s good. Most are everyday objects, forks and spoons, parked train, leafs and flowers, staple fodder of any photojournalism student. Her cousins (rug rats from Moorestown) smile back from dozens of shots. Other images are attempt at the abstract with their only commonality being that, like a Jackson Pollock painting, they appeal to the eye. There is no reason or thought or form to them. They just “feel” right.
I hope you enjoy Grace’s pic page, her own little corner of the web. And I hope it inspires you, as it has me, to see the world differently, from odd angles and through different lens, where even the most ordinary things can be beautiful.
Sunday, November 19th, 2017