Too often, we wander through life without ever noticing simple beauty in life. Our lack of attention can also cause us to miss profound stories and “ordinary” people with incredible gifts simply because they are not flashy, famous, or full of themselves.
A decade ago, a series of photographs hit the internet, and they stunned the art world. These were not photos of Hollywood stars, sports players, or political figures. Instead, they were pictures of kids, adults, families, wealthy, needy, happy, sad, and even apathetic. There are pictures of men, women, friends, opponents, black, white, Hispanic, young, and old. They are profound, and yet at the same time, simple. They are glimpses of life.
What is impressive is that there are over 150,000 of these street photos and negatives from 1950s Chicago and New York City. The same photographer shot all of them, yet one whose name you would never have heard. Yet these photos were almost lost without any of us ever having the opportunity to have been seen. This massive collection was discovered in pieces by a couple of enthusiasts of old photography who found them at auctions and estate sales.
What is fascinating is that you can study these photographs for hours, and each can tell multiple stories as your imagination runs wild. Here a few examples:
Look at these little girls enjoying the pure pleasure of a popsicle. Some will return to childhood simplicity, while students of history think about what these little girls of color must have faced in the 1950s. Car enthusiasts will look at the reflection in the shoe repair shop window, trying to figure out what kind of car it is, while others notice the keyboard in the window.
What is this man’s story? Was he homeless, or did he have some dirty job and was taking a break to eat his lunch? Was this food giving to him, or packed by his wife? Is he younger than he appears, and the hardness of life has grizzled him? Is he sad, hopeless, or just simply tired?
This beautiful woman is looking in a storefront window. What has caught her gaze? Is she window shopping, or is she contemplating how many paychecks it would take to afford what she sees? Notice the gloved hand? I cannot tell what the objects in the window are; They look like labels or badges. Is she sad, or just pondering? Maybe she is thinking about the one she loves or is hoping to find love.
Do you see what I mean? The stories of each picture are intriguing, profound, and beautiful. and there are over 150,000 of these!
Now study the face of the woman in this photo. She is not likely to stand out in a crowd, nor does she have the look of a glamorous or wealthy artist. She could be a European tourist or a photography student. Her story is that she was a humble nanny with a reasonably regular life who served families for three decades. She was not famous or rich. She is the photographer of this massive collection I have been speaking about; her name in life was Vivian Maier.
Such a relatively obscure life, and yet such an amazing and unparalleled eye for the beauty of the ordinary. Thank God that John Maloof, Ron Slattery, and Randy Prow found and shared her legacy with us. Maloof was so captivated by what he experienced that he produced a documentary titled “Finding Vivian Maier” that “J” and I watched many months ago. I strongly recommend this movie to you.
So be on the lookout for the ordinary; pay attention to the people you meet and learn their stories. It would be a shame if they were to pass out of this world without somebody recognizing their beauty and their gifts! Love them because they are your neighbors, and “42” has made them in his image!
Finally, I share one of my personal favorites. Is this a dad out for a walk with his kids? Is it a Saturday, or is he walking them to school? Notice that she is looking back at Vivian (and us)? How about the reflection in the puddle? Awesome!