It has always amazed me, the way the smallest fleeting moments have the capacity to alter our lives forever. Call me a hopeless romantic if you must but, imagine for a second, sitting at a cafe to enjoy a book and some good jazz. You pull your cup of tea up to your lips and hear a voice in the background of the comings and goings of the room and your attention leaves your book for a split second to see a unfamiliar but beautiful figure glide across the room to take their seat. Their fingers trace the rim of their coffee cup just before they sit back in their chair and light a cigarette. Your attention, for this moment, has become fixed on this person’s movements- The way their foot moves rhythmically to the baseline of the jazz in the background. Their lips as they exhale small plumes of smoke. Their fingertips draped delicately around their cup. The scene plays perfectly as if to be consumed with all five senses in the way one could immerse themselves in a performance art exhibition. You find yourself moving across the room in a trance conjured by the melody of saxophones and cellos. A simple “good morning” finds its way through your lips and their eyes meet yours. The two of you now intertwined in conversation that travels continents and ideas… and then you’re snapped out of it by the sound of a ceramic plate crashing to the floor behind the counter. You realize you’re still sitting in your seat, book in hand and lost in another world. Battling with the knowledge that the word “hello” could change everything.
I often wonder, while wandering the city, how couples meet. What experiences built the laughter they share as they stroll hand in hand between street lamps and cross walks? As I sit in bars and coffee shops, I observe affection from the outside- sorting through my own triumphs and tragedies with respect to the obscure idea of “love”. What is it about a person’s subtle gestures and quips that makes our hearts beat faster and the corners of our lips curl upwards in delight?
Love has become a rather complex idea in my life. Particularly following the tragedy that was my own marriage. Though my situation was a remarkably extreme example of the evils people are capable of inflicting on others, I haven’t given up on the idea that it is possible to fall in love again. There are still good people in the world who want to share their warmth with another person genuinely and wholly. This, though, wasn’t always the case for me. The idea of a relationship had certainly left a sour taste in my mouth and stained my spirit. Making pictures is what reopened my heart. The camera has a way of showing us the truth and has been my guide in finding the truth about love.
I remember telling my daughter to point her camera at whatever frightened her or made her uncomfortable. This was a “practice what you preach” moment if ever there was one for me. I found myself stopping and asking to make pictures with couples I’d meet on the street. I’d inquire about how they met and what their favorite things about each other are. To my surprise, my questions are often met with warm smiles and hugs. In more intimate settings, friends of mine will openly show each other affection. Now, the resentment I once harbored has been replaced with intrigue and admiration. The idea that I am able to freeze these moment of happiness, lust, attraction, and empathy forever is a reminder that love is still very much alive in the world.
We see drama, lies, and fighting all over TV and social media. Studies tell us that everyone is getting divorced and that people all over the world are leaning more toward superficial relationships in lieu of long term love- almost to say that love is a thing of the past. Maybe it is in the most conventional ways. But then many of the constructs around love were never really about love at all. Love does not involve control, jealousy, money, or status. This, I’ve learned, in spending time with many different couples (and groups of lovers) who are just plain happy. Not because he buys her a purse or she cooks and cleans. No- this is not love. These are things some people do to show love but this, at it’s core, is not love. Love is safety, warmth, trust, and affection. Love is the feeling of comfort when she places her hand on his. Love is the experience shared in laughing together at a comedy show. Love is sharing intimate conversation, or silence for that matter, over a long car ride to nowhere.
My camera has shown me that people can and do love each other regardless of labels. People can and do appreciate each other for the individuals they are and accept the quirks that one might consider strange about themselves. Love, then, is like a puzzle. Sometimes things fit perfectly. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people find love in sex. Sometimes they find it in art. Sometimes we stay together and sometimes we move on to find the next piece that fits perfectly with the way our lives are in that moment. And that’s all okay.