What do you really see?

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Looked down from our bedroom window to see this…

 

By Caitlin Kelly

 

I think about this a lot.

For a writer, I’m a highly visual person. It informs how I live, how I think, how I write and how I connect to the world.

My father was an award-winning film director.

My husband is an award-winning photographer.

I sold my first images — three covers — to a Toronto magazine while still in high school and went on to sell my photos to Time, The New York Times, Washington Post and others.

I see beauty everywhere, all the time. I could spend all day photographing the world.

But I wonder how many people now — staring into their phones — even see the world around them. I shout “DON’T WALK INTO ME!” at anyone phone-staring while ambulating.

It’s disturbing how little we notice of the subtleties: the changing light season to season, how it gets low and yellow in fall; the specific bright green of spring vegetation, the minuscule worlds beneath our feet in any forest.

My daily joy is my Instagram feed, with spectacular images from around the world — Scotland, Finland, Italy, many by talented amateurs (check out Grant Kaspo’s stunning photos of Scottish mountains, in all seasons and hours) but also by legendary pro’s like fellow Canadian Gary Hershorn, who I met a long long time ago when we both worked in  Toronto and now live within an hour’s drive of one another near New York City.

Recently asked by an awestruck Insta follower, “How do you do it?” Gary replied “You just have to look.”

 

Are you looking?

 

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?

Take That Photo Today — Here’s Why

Cover of "The Purple Rose of Cairo"
Cover of The Purple Rose of Cairo

My little town, 25 miles north of Manhattan, is so charming it’s been used as a set for several films: Purple Rose of Cairo, The Preacher’s Wife, Mona Lisa Smile and The Good Shepherd.

But Oliver’s Barber Shop, used in the Purple Rose of Cairo, is suddenly gone.

It had two huge, perfect 1930s windows, filled with plants and flags and signs. It was, in its own funky way, a set piece, literally.  I loved everything about it and even did a watercolor painting of it about six years ago, framed it and gave it to my sweetie for Christmas. Oddly, the brick around those windows remains a lighter beige, painted for the movie to look more photogenic.

But the barber shop (now a trendy hair salon) is gone for good and I’m in shock and in mourning. I will miss that window, in its ancient messiness, terribly.

I love old things and their patina of age, doors whose paint is alligatored and faded, porcelain that is crazed with a thousand tiny cracks, silver a little banged up, textiles worn thin by someone else’s skin. I can’t explain its hold on me, the ancient. Maybe because it helps me feel anchored by centuries past, not adrift in a world of noise, plastic and neon.

We tend to photograph the unusual and the special: births, christenings, graduations, weddings — but not the quotidian. We’re too busy or assume the things we love about our neighborhoods, our cities and towns and rural landscapes, will always be there.

The disappearance of Oliver’s was a great wake-up call.

Love it before it’s gone.

Take a photo — keep a memory.

Moved By Mountains

Mt. Rundle, Alberta Canada
Mt. Rundle, one of my new favorite places in the world! Banff, Alberta. It's 330 million years old...Image by s.yume via Flickr

I’ve always thought of myself as a city girl. I love to dress up, eat out, look at art, attend theater.

But having just spent a week in the Rocky Mountains I came away so bereft at the thought of leaving them behind it was hard not to weep today when the Air Canada 767 finally took off from Calgary, taking me back to Vancouver for another week.

How can mountains, ones I didn’t even ski on or climb but merely admired from a distance, so move me?

Every morning, I opened my hotel room’s pale yellow striped curtains and stared straight up a steep, wooded mountain. If I peered off to the right, far in the distance, snow-covered peaks glowed rose in the dawn, disappeared into wreaths of snow or cloud, gleamed blue at dusk.

Having never lived near mountains, I had no idea how they change with every cloud and shaft of light, shifting shape and character hourly. Like an ever-changing baby’s face, I could watch them, mesmerized, for hours.

I had never felt such an intimacy with a landscape, enveloped by the crags surrounding me. I was up this morning at 6:30 to catch my bus, and ran about — my nostrils freezing shut, eyes weeping with cold, bare hands cramping, snatching earrings out of my pierced ears (they conduct cold!)  — snapping last-minute photos. As the bus raced east, I shifted from one side to the other taking more images through its windows, oblivious to what a gawping tourist I was being.

Mt. Rundle, one of the peaks I stared at every day in awe, is 330 million years old.

As we entered the endless suburban tracts outside Calgary, a local woman — heading off for a week’s warmth in Mexico — pointed out a “sundog” — a huge rainbow encircling the sun, thanks to light refracted through ice crystals in the air.

It sounds odd to say I’ll desperately miss a pile ‘o rocks, but I will.

What landscape has so touched you?