A different point of view

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s been a long time — 23 years — since the death of my dog Petra, a small black and white terrier mix I inherited from my mother as she went off to travel. I loved seeing the world through Petra’s eyes and wondered what it was like to experience it all from a height of a foot, not my five feet, five inches.

 

We take so for granted the way we see the world, that everyone else does, too, which of course they don’t. Read any news source today and our political divisions are obvious.

 

It’s one of the reasons I love to travel, whether a few hours upstate in New York or abroad. People think differently. People see, literally, differently.

One of my favorite assignments of 2017 was meeting a Quebec farmer who took me into one of his fields and explained the function (!) of cornsilk. I’ll never see corn the same way again.

On a current project for The New York Times, I visited a Brooklyn classroom and watched tween girls in hijab confidently wielding power tools. Not at all what I’d expected!

A joy of journalism, for decades, for me, is how often it pushes us into wholly unfamiliar situations — physically, emotionally, spiritually. If you want to work in journalism and can’t imagine a thousand other ways of being in this world — run. It’s not the job for you!

In my work, I’ve met Queen Elizabeth, convicted felons, FBI firearms trainers, crime victims, Billy Joel, a female Admiral. I’ve witnessed the aftermath of a horrific head-on car crash and reviewed ballet.

A new book by Hallie Rubenhold is reframing the classic narrative around Jack the Ripper’s victims; here’s a Guardian story about it.

Using my cellphone camera is helping me see the world anew.

Some images:

 

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I love to sit at the bar and to eat alone there, two activities I know some women find intimidating and won’t do. This is from one of Manhattan’s best restaurants, Via Carota, and I loved the image in black and white better than in color. When you work in photography you stop seeing beauty per se and look for information — sometimes color is overwhelming and distracting.

As you look at the image, notice what you notice first and why: the drinks and their prices? The quality of the the light? I was most interested in the very rear, the people sitting at the table in bright sunlight. You can even see through the window across the street — to the hair salon where I get my hair done.

 

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Jose and I had just been to the ballet and were leaving the Koch Theater when I noticed this pattern of beaded metal curtains with the lights of a building behind. I liked the juxtaposition.

This was interesting; just as I noticed it, so did Jose. It’s easy to ignore something as basic as the curtains because they’re often functional as well as decorative. I liked the warm tones here as well.

 

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On our recent trip to Montreal, this amazing tiled serpent, coiled around a column, advertises a Mexican tourist agency. I just liked the color and detail without needing the entire image. Sometimes a fraction is much more compelling than the entirety.

Trying to capture the whole serpent would have been more difficult because of too much distracting stuff around it. I like how the shadow bisects the image, and had never seen tile of this shape before.

 

 

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I love shopping to see what sort of environments a decent designer can create — these were two enormous pillows in Brown’s, a Montreal shoe store. Loved the color, texture and wit.

Chartreuese is one of my favorite colors, anywhere. That graphic black and white, and its scale, are fantastic. I found the pillows more interesting than the shoes!

 

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Nothing special — the doors to the dining room of our Montreal hotel. But I love the texture and light and shadow.

There’s beauty everywhere. You just have to notice it.

 

 

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I’ve walked past this red wooden bench in our town hundreds of times, and have sat on it it a few times. But I loved it with some snowflakes.

The weathered cracks make this more interesting to me.

 

 

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Literally, out the bedroom window, looking straight down. This is one of my recent favorites.

 

This feels mysterious to me. When do we ever look down into or onto a tree?

 

Look up.

Look down.

Look at something you find ugly — why?

Look at something you’ve seen 1,000 times before and notice something new.

Listen to a podcast or radio show or TV show you’ve never heard.

Read an author or genre you’d normally avoid.

 

Has something ever radically changed your point of view?

What was your life-changing moment?

By Caitlin Kelly

She was wandering the shoe department at Bloomingdale’s, the one at 59th and Third in Manhattan. On a hot, humid day, her pale arms were fully bare, shoulder to fingertips.

But something terrible had happened to her, and to them; they were covered with deep, wide scars, dozens of them up and down each arm. Had she flown through a windshield? Been pushed into a window?

Whatever had happened to her surely divided the moments before and the moments afterward into two very different lives.

We all have them.

Sometimes joyful — a scholarship, a career-making award, a fellowship, a new baby, a wedding.

 

Sept. 18, 2011. Jose and I tie the knot!
Sept. 18, 2011. Jose and I tie the knot!

Sometimes devastating — an awful medical diagnosis, the onset of a chronic illness, an accident and subsequent injury, a divorce, the death of a child or loved one, getting fired or long-term un(der)employment.

It might not be, and probably isn’t, just one moment, but the epiphany that results is often very powerful and, like a river suddenly silted after a landslide, can radically alter a previously set course.

For my husband, Jose, then a White House Press Corps photographer for The New York Times, it was the 1995 assignment — which he volunteered for — to cover the end of the Bosnian war, over Christmas, a job that would prove to be frightening, dangerous, bitterly cold and mean spending six weeks, often alone, in utterly foreign surroundings with very little to eat in rough living conditions.

The first few times I asked him to describe it, he teared up. This is a man of ferocious sangfroid, so a lot had happened there and it changed him forever; he came back and soon afterward became a devout student of Tibetan Buddhism.

Three moments stand out for me:

1) At 25, I won a fellowship to live in Paris for eight months in a group of 28 foreign journalists from 19 countries, ages 25 to 35, and travel alone and in the group, all across Europe, from Denmark to Italy to Istanbul. I was bored with my quiet, calm life in Toronto with all the boxes ticked: boyfriend, dog, friends, work, family. I craved a major kick in the ass, both personally and professionally. That it was!

But I was also terrified to leave, knowing that it would forever change me. I’m still friends with people in Ireland and England and the U.S. and France I met that year, and have since traveled widely for work using my language and reporting skills polished there.

It showed me that the world beyond my city and country is filled with smart, passionate, kind people. By doing hard work, alone, I learned how fully capable I really was.

2) At 41, I was lonely, broke, struggling mightily, and nursing the sounds of an abrupt and unwanted divorce and two break-ups since then. Into my life came a smart, caring, witty man who seemed to want to help me.

But then he didn’t — the day the phone rang and a credit card company informed me that he had opened my mail, stolen my new credit card, activated it from my home phone, forged my signature multiple times and run up all sorts of charges on it. When I called him to ask if he had done it, his three words — said many times in his career as a convicted con man: “It’s not provable.” Nor was it, despite evidence of six felonies. The police and district attorney scoffed at my request to act: to arrest, charge and prosecute him. They refused.

I learned to be much less trusting and know that “authorities” in charge of protecting us from crime may legally choose not to. It was my job, and my job alone, to be much smart(er) about my romantic choices and to stay safe.

Landing in Bilwi with Jen. The start of a great adventure!
Landing in Bilwi with Jen. The start of a great adventure!

3) The third came recently, after an intense eight-day reporting trip to rural Nicaragua for WaterAid, in the poorest part of the second-poorest nation in the Americas. There were many emotionally powerful moments, from Marly, 5, who let me braid her hair, to 69-year-old Ailita, who used her machete to carve a bamboo stem into a canoe seats for us. Jen and I spent a morning trailing two women in their world, one completely alien to ours, (no electricity, no running water, sixth-grade educations, no shared tongue) — walking through the rain forest, crossing the river in their dugout canoe, watching them gather cucumbers and beans and squash from the vine so that we could best describe their lives and their need for water. They were kind and welcoming to us, even though we had never met.

It reminded me again that potential connection, mediated by empathy, kindness and curiosity ignores many visible boundaries.

What was one of your moments?

How has it altered your course since then?