… musings re: photography, art, secret hoards …

When I take a photograph I stop time, from where I stand, from where I walk, from where I look. The image becomes inner, a pregnant, eternal moment. Artists who engage with the intimate reality mirrored in their surroundings might admit, or not, the erotic dynamics at play in this search for a glimpse of the beloved, an essence shining through the cracks from beneath fleeting surfaces. It’s not only artists who frame flashes of significance, everyone selects, does the stop-motion of perceiving, it’s how stories are made.

A self-portrait of Vivian Maier

A self-portrait of Vivian Maier

In 2007 a photographic archive was auctioned off to recover debts for storage rent. Most of her life Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009) worked as a nanny. In her free time she recorded what caught her eye, predominantly in the streets of New York and Chicago. She captured poignant moments, like soul mirrors, in brief encounters. Read the tale of how her archive was discovered and the puzzle of her life was assembled HERE

During my stay in Amsterdam I visited a retrospective of her work from 1950s to 1980s at Foam Gallery

It is my guess that, while she was without means to have innumerable film rolls printed, Vivian Maier distinctly memorised each unpredictable encounter she captured. What makes me think so?

Photo by Vivian Maier

Photo by Vivian Maier

The memory of defining and framing something on the move is powerful, with or without camera, though a creative record helps structuring and symbolising our perceptions. During the 70s, when I worked as photo-journalist, using analogue cameras, a Rolleiflex, like Vivian, but also Nikons, and a Hasselblad, I never wasted film. Each image was taken by choice.

Certain frames live on in my memory as iconic elements, and I recall the exact instant when I pressed the shutter, encapsulating something of essence.

A number of years ago I lost three 35 mm film-rolls on a plane from Berlin to London. I thought they were secure in my make-up bag, but the bag slipped unnoticed down the seat and I never recovered it. I mourned. It was the first time I re-visited Berlin, my mother’s city, since I was 7 years old.  Yet the images I took in Berlin and of the friends I travelled with are still crystal clear in my mind.

I recall the massive amount of negatives and prints I burned at an earlier point in my life, not to be burdened with storage, not to sit on my laurels, and for other reasons – profound stupitity, I know,  a self-destructive streak haunted me at the time. The vanished portfolio is now a secret hoard lingering in my memory. It is also a scene in my mythic poetic novel, still awaiting publication.

The story of the discovery of Vivian Maier’s secret archive grips the imagination. Why? Maybe because we all yearn to evidence our existence. Even if only one person holds up a mirror of approval, can GROG us, we are affirmed.

With the cornucopia of individual creativity unleashed through the new technologies of recent decades, the chance of public recognition is fickle, sponsors look for novelty, notoriety, eccentricity, looks, hard elbows …  A good deal depends on timing, and luck.

Yet no individual perspective is alike. The passions we pursue in communion with what we encounter inside, outside, our search, our uniqueness, is forever in need of expression. We want to be witnessed for the coherence and ingenuity of our individual world, our deeply felt values, skills and insights. And yet – I heard it said – if Einstein’s equation of relativity had never been published, it would still have influenced and shifted the collective consciousness.

I deduct that since we all benefit from the inspirations and inventions of individuals who may never have received credit for their genius, their life’s work, and since nothing is ever truly lost (I believe,) there can be solace in our giving, be it acknowledged or not, while we keep on the lookout and ready ourselve for a glimpse of the beloved’s curl.

And of course, nothing prevents me, or you, from expecting miracles 🙂


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15 responses to “… musings re: photography, art, secret hoards …

  1. Lovely hopeful post to start the new year. I do envy you visiting that photography exhibition that story of Vivan Maier was fascinating particularly as it seems that her employers were unaware of her talent and photographic exploits.


    • Thanks. Yes, her story fascinates people, all this passion hidden away, it speaks to me, and to many shy creatives who find it difficult to put themselves forward, have no sponsors, little emotional support or resources.
      Maybe her exhibition will travel near you some time.


  2. Since this chimes in complete unison with what I have decided to focus on, I have reblogged it. Hope you don’t mind. It is precisely that unique vision that is lost unless we are careful.


  3. Reblogged this on INVOLUTION: Science and God: Mavericks and Inspiration and commented:
    This post from Ashen is exactly the kind of thinking I hope to elicit. The belief she expresses is that simply being aware contributes and for all eternity makes ‘failure’ to be publicly approved superfluous. That is liberating; nicht?


  4. Looking at these photographs and enjoying the aged look of sepia, black and white, I immediately find myself visiting a lost time.
    The capturing of moments on film as it was, created not only a record of happenings and characters, but set-up a tsunami of nostalgia to be encountered by those following.
    The look, the colour, the feel and even the smell of old photographs, is something to behold. To have one’s thoughts and deeds recorded may seem trivial in real time, but in the long term, it provides much pleasure and often a gentle tear or two.
    Thanks so much Ashen, lovely post. B


    • I agree, the initial colour photos were overwhelming, too crowded, too much happening in the frame, often blunting out the essence. A little colour can be effective, but B&w and sepia are special, more abstract.
      Re: nostalgia, it’s more than that. I believe we also change the way we hold the past by looking at it from a different point in time, from a wider perspective, with more understanding and compassion. I’ve experienced it happening with myself, and with clients. Mindsets shift and expectations change in the process, so the future is also affected.
      In any case, linear time is a strange myth.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Viv

    Linear time is indeed a strange myth.


  6. Very interesting, and revealing. Thank you Ashen, for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was hoping to see some of her work in NY next week, but the exhibition closed at the end of December. Fascinating, her story. To think about her focus and dedication, without any thought (perhaps) of letting anyone else in. True artistry, I’d say, and that’s part of the allure. To think of all the striving happening around the world, by the hour, without recognition. It’s alternately inspiring and discouraging, depending how you’re feeling. Happy new year, Ashen.


    • Thank you Mary. You express it well. Discouraging, and, at times, inspiring. Good to remember when the sky looks like a muddy ice-rink.
      Made me miss the full moon yesterday.
      A happy New Year to you and yours and all.


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