The healing power of beauty

By Caitlin Kelly

We need beauty as much as we need food, water and air, whether it’s visual or auditory. Ignoring that fundamental need parches us.

In a time when so many people spend their lives staring at a screen, encountering beauty in real life — a flower, a bird, a sky filled with stars, a painting or piece of music — can be transformative.

We’re lucky to live in a small town — pop. 10,000 — 25 miles north of Manhattan, named one of the nation’s 10 prettiest by Forbes magazine. If you’ve seen the films Mona Lisa Smile, The Preacher’s Wife or  The Good Shepherd, (one of my favorites), you’ve glimpsed our handsome main street in each of these, filled with Victorian-era shops and homes.

Our apartment has great views of the Hudson River, tree-tops, acres of sky and clouds. We savor spectacular sunsets and birdsong, butterflies and fireflies in the cool, green dusk.

In New York city, we have access to museums and art galleries and parks, grateful for every bit of it.

 

Here are some of the things I find beautiful, that nurture and calm me…

 

IMG_20160619_122748558 (1)Beautiful architecture — this is Union Station in D.C.

 

IMG_20160616_133549584_HDRColor, design, elegant neo-classical murals — part of the Library of Congress, in D.C.

 

IMG_20160412_165237000Every patch of earth, if you kneel down and really look closely, is a tapestry of color, texture, growth and decay

 

IMG_20151202_130507813More neo-classical fabulousness — this, a corner of Bryant Park, midtown Manhattan

 

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I’m crazy about textiles — the purple floral is now curtains in our sitting room

 

IMG_20160316_204755470_HDRPattern is everywhere! This is in Soho, Manhattan — glass inserts to allow light into a basement of an early building there

 

L1010182ANothing unusual — lawn furniture in autumn — but I love the symmetry of it from above; this at Hovey Manor, Quebec

 

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This plant was outside our Donegal cottage

 

 

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I love this painted tin wall, one of the shops on our main street in Tarrytown, NY

 

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Looking down the stairs at Fortnum & Mason, London

 

 

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Beauty is everywhere — like this Paris cafe

 

 

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I love this view — Bucks County, Pennsylvania — out the window of a 1905 farmhouse a friend used to rent

 

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Every year I wait with bated breath for this lilac tree near us to bloom. Swoon!

 

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Nicaragua is the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti — but its wooden houses are amazingly colored and cared for

 

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A lamp on the campus of Pratt Institute, a private college in Brooklyn

 

Where in your daily life does beauty manifest itself?

 

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Simple but lovely — cut glass, silver plate, curves — and cool water!

On (really) seeing

By Caitlin Kelly

 

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Some of you are photographers and film-makers, professional observers.

Some of you are writers and visual artists.

We look for a living — noticing and making or recording the beauty of what we find.

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I enjoyed this recent post by frequent commenter Cynthia Guenther Richardson about the value of really seeing where you are:

I have become more of a human being since taking photographs daily. More satisfied, centered in the moment, less opinionated of what and whom I experience. Photography offers an intense personal experience while also requiring objectivity, a distancing. It asks me to abandon restrictive thinking and give myself over to a finer sense of things, the gravitational pull of life around me. Order can be created even if there seems to be little–or exposed and highlighted. And it takes discipline, which is something I enjoy…

Walking into the world with camera in hand unlocks secrets to which I would not otherwise be so privy. I closely observe the way shadow changes rhododendron blossoms. I watch how a couple leans toward one another in the spring light, then the man turns sharply away. I see a child poke a muddy puddle and talk to himself about frogs and other beings unnamed. Over there is a house with an extravagance of foliage and two empty chairs. Who steps out in the dusk to sit there with the quieting birds? Photography uses a different part of the brain than language; it enlarges my reservoir of skills and ideas, stimulates possibilities.

And these images, from SearchingtoSee, are lovely. Emily Hughes is a British primary school teacher who’s also passionate about photography. Here is some of her “about” page:’

It is easy to become consumed by a kind of fervour for capturing images, and I wonder if for him [her father] it was as much about escaping from the chaos of everyday family life as it was about recording it. I know for me it certainly is. I carry a camera with me often, and when I am off taking pictures I feel so liberated and so focussed at the same time,  that I often find it hard to be ‘present’ in my other roles: mum, sister, daughter, wife, friend… but there are times when I feel like I need to record, and there are times also when I realise that I need to put down the camera and just be, enjoy, experience, think. But I understand and share the collective need we have as humans to use photography as a tool of memory, to seize and hold forever those moments of magic because they are so fleeting and because if we didn’t then we might forget that they existed at all.

But so many of us now live — if you can call it that! — in a rushed, tech-tethered world.

As I walk through Manhattan or Grand Central Station, I often have to side-step people , yelling “Don’t bump into me!”, people  striding head-down while reading or texting.

It’s rude and aggressive — and sad.

photo: Jose R. Lopez
photo: Jose R. Lopez

They’re missing a lot.

I’ve lived in the same apartment for 25 years, which is odd and unsettling for me, someone who lives for adventure and new experiences. But it also means I’ve grown to know and love the rhythms of my town, and the trees and woods and water nearby.

I know when the magnolia is about to bloom and mourn the day the red Japanese maple sheds its final bright mementos for the season. I look for the fragrant shoots of wild onion and the changing position of the sun as it hits our balcony, proof that the earth really does move through the seasons.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

The other day I went for my reservoir walk, not as usual, at the end of the day at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m., but at 10:00 a.m; the same old familiar place felt very different, as brilliant sunlight backlit the tiny, brilliant green buds of the trees. The woods became a pointilist painting!

My father, still healthy and curious at 85, was a documentary film-maker and a visual artist working in a variety of media: silver, etching, engraving, oils, lithography. I began drawing and painting and taking photographs as a child.

(It’s interesting that Cynthia, Emily and I were all inspired by our fathers.)

My husband Jose is an award-winning New York Times photo editor and former photographer, (now also shooting weddings), so I’ve spent my life around people who see, notice, observe — and act on their art-making impulses.

Jose recently did a 30-day series of daily blog posts with images from his 30 years at the Times, many of them from his days in the White House Press Corps; check it out here.

You might also enjoy The New York Times Lens blog, which interviews photographers and offers interesting backstories to the images you see in their pages and on-line.

(All photos here are mine.)

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Are you making time to really see your world?