When I hear “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” I take it to mean that some people find beauty where others do not. An artist friend who designs and sells jewelry once remarked that he made it a practice to experience beauty every day. I thought that was wonderful. But between work and family life, the only time I found available to search for beauty was when I was out with a camera looking for it.
Searching for opportunities to compose elements within a frame in ways that fed my aesthetic hunger, I frequented scrap yards, construction sites, abandoned buildings, tractor-trailer grave yards, empty fairgrounds and musty antique shops. As a consequence of creating order out of visual chaos, I was experiencing beauty in unconventional places and subjects. I first noticed this when I realized that I didn’t need to go to the beaches, national parks or anywhere else to experience beauty. It was at hand. To transform an ugly or ordinary object into a beautiful one, all I had to do was to decide to see it that way—with or without a camera.
My interest in “beauty” as a subject has been an evolution. As a child, I thought certain people, places and things were intrinsically beautiful and others were not. Through readings and formal education I learned that beauty is subjective and it varies widely between individuals. Camerawork taught me that beauty can be manufactured, as when we light or arrange objects in a more pleasing way. And that by deliberate choice, an ordinary object can be transformed into something beautiful. Actually, that was my job as a producer-cinematographer for television stations, often challenged by advertisers to make their everyday products—like sheets and pillow cases, watches and toys—look beautiful.
Of course, beauty is such a subjective experience it cannot be defined. Nonetheless, each of us can, with contemplation, find some language that will help us better understanding its place in our lives. For me currently, the experience of beauty presents me with feelings of joy and harmony, sometimes awe. I think it comes, mostly at a subconscious level, from attunement to nature’s design principles.
The above image reminds me that beauty can be found everywhere we look—even in the kitchen sink. And I can predispose myself to experience it by choosing to see it in everyday places and objects. Beauty is not only something to be found, it’s something to be receptive to—and make.
It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
Henry David Thoreau
About This Image
Title: Kitchen Highlights
Each spring, the sun comes through our kitchen window and sprays these highlights onto the backsplash above our sink. All I did was turn the faucet a little to maximize the width of the “spray” of sublight.
Whenever I see something and the thought comes to mind that it would make a great shot, I try to get a camera and photograph it. Doing so enhances the experience and makes it last. Moments of beauty, no matter how subtle, are precious.
Linda is a master in this regard. Regularly, she’ll place a shell, a blossom or a stone that she picked up and place it in a bowl to be displayed on our kitchen table. I can’t count the number of times I photographed these little gems. As I write, there’s a red maple leaf gracing our table in a saucer of black china.