Beauty in Lockdown
Here is a photo I took a couple of weeks back. It’s the sun rising over Camberwell. I’m currently living in a “studio apartment” which is a euphemism for a bedsit. Due to a chain of unfortunate events I briefly became homeless in October and the only way to get a roof over my head was to rent a this property through one of the local councils schemes. Enough said about that.
I hate where I live. On my last visit to Dublin I went to the tenement museum and where I live is the modern equivalent. In normal circumstances I try to only sleep here as it’s so small and my neighbours play loud music and often pollute the stairways with their dope smoke. So you see lockdown is extremely trying being confined to a living space about 3 x 2.5 that is a kitchen and bedroom.
I do not have a outside space but I do look out on other people's gardens. This window has been a godsend. One of the things I have been doing to keep myself in a positive mindset has being going to bed early and getting up early. I have been lucky to catch the sunrise on a few occasion but failing that the morning sky is beautiful. The sun rising has been my steadfast emblem of hope that we will get through this.
Also I think it’s probably worth mentioning that my mother died suddenly when I was 23. We the extreme experience of watching her die when they took her off a ventilator. Directly after she passed away it became dawn and the sky lit up with subtle tones of purples and pinks, dissolving the dark night sky with light. Ever since then, if I’m low and want to connect with my mother's love I know she will always be waiting at dawn to embrace me with her love.
Like you said in your email, sometimes clichés capture ideas perfectly - so I think of the one “it’s always darkest just before dawn” - or the one I love from Buddhism is “Winter always turns to Spring”.
Every good wish, Frank
Beauty seems difficult to capture with any creative medium since the experience has usually been a set of events / imagined events with an element of surprise. The last time I was definitely moved was when a teacher burst into my class, stopped what was going on and publicly addressed a bullying incident. He thanked the bullying victim who had been doing some fundraising for the school that day, and suddenly the whole class decided at that moment to applaud this boy.
An event like this doesn't happen often, where I have had strongly stirred emotions (admiration, pity), being able to imagine something outside the event (the bullying), ideas (unsung heroes, justice), body sensations (I felt heavy chest, 'heart in mouth') - all at the same time. In hindsight, surprise seems an important ingredient of Beauty. Events are slightly easier than images, but I can still only really propose something to someone else as beautiful if it's worded a certain way.
There's something that I certainly could find beautiful about the early morning. I really got what Frank said because I appreciate the start of the day so much. The coloured light breaking through the sky, especially when it's sometimes orange in the Winter. And there's the pleasant sensation of having a clear mental state and a clean gut from fasting.
My picture doesn't seem like an image of beauty though, perhaps a surprise element is missing and I also can't connect the picture to imagined events very well.
Best wishes and missing our chats from last year,
I do not yet have a beautifully curated image to show you, but a candid moment. What I am considering beauty at the moment is very rooted in the idea of 'noticing'. I truly believe that the idea of beauty can be divided into groupings. Aesthetics, feeling, and belonging. My image is not aesthetically perfect, it would not necessarily appear beautiful or evoke beauty to anyone else, but to me, it is the definition of beauty in my lock-down world. The care and attention that my partner is giving our cat and I, as we are both unwell, is all the beauty I need. So, having a moment where there is peace and a sense of calm, for him to take a moment for himself - is beautiful.
I hope you are well, Phoebe
This is an aquilegia. It’s growing in the corner of our garden where we put stuff we don’t need any more. It’s been two months since the dump closed and this corner is home to a growing collection of things that should be there instead of here. Twisted metal poles. A broken weedkiller dispenser. Empty bags of manure. A swing bin that no longer swings. It’s like the worst ever conveyor belt on The Generation Game.
Meanwhile the aquilegia just gets on with growing. Stems like tiny skyscrapers. Petals like little Rothkos. It’s not bothered that it’s in the crappiest part of the garden. It’s too busy getting on with living, knowing its beauty is short-lived.
Like the trees in Philip Larkin’s poem:
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.’
Here, there is beauty in the contrast: between the focus and the blur; the purple and the green; the flower and the bee.
And there is beauty in the opposition: between the movement and the stillness; the ephemeral and the eternal; the natural and the technical.
And there is beauty in our human perception of a blooming, buzzing confusion, which turns a fuzz of noumena into a communal phenomenon.
The image I have chosen has only a tenuous connection with lockdown and, arguably an even more tenuous connection with beauty, although taking inspiration from the often quoted “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, I was the beholder, it was my eye, so I am sticking to the suggestion that it is beautiful. It is concerned with the mundane and the ordinary; things that we have got rather used to during this weird time, things that seem to have taken on new levels of importance in our lives.
I find it tricky to state exactly why I find it beautiful, other than I just really like the way that the focus, and lack of it, creates weird wispy shapes, causes areas to blend into each other and transforms the already muted colours into something abstract and atmospheric.
At the risk of getting a little carried away and high- brow I think, for me, it is really about the process of photography itself and the ability of the camera to transform something that is mundane and ordinary into an image that is not. It is about the fact that I cannot see this image in reality with my eye naturally like this. I can't see out of focus like this (even with my ageing eyes), and the light and shade didn't look much like that in real life. There is no way that my eye will let me study the crisp little details that suddenly pop out of areas of softness and lines that gradually move in and out of sharpness. My eye can’t do that because it is constantly changing focus and aperture to allow me to see ‘everything’ but I cant see this image.
That is, for me, both the appeal and challenge of photography. We are surrounded by beautiful things and scenes that change when you point a camera at them and they transform into two dimensional representations that are not as interesting as they look for real. I like photography when it does the opposite and it shows you things that you don’t see in reality.
As for the subject of the picture, in case it is not obvious, it is a white plastic shopping bag. The ordinary, mundane kind of bag that signalled damage to our environment not so long ago. It is, of course, still damaging when overused and discarded but currently has taken on a new significance when filled up with essential items and left on the doorsteps of the elderly and the isolated. The people in our street have come together during this time and we have a weekly street collection of food and essential items that go to a local food bank. Every Thursday lunchtime there has been a collection of ordinary plastic shopping bags and cardboard boxes in a front garden before it gets delivered.
The beauty of the ordinary in lockdown.