A Life in a Box

“Reading things that are relevant to the facts of your life is of limited value. The facts are, after all only the facts, and the yearning passionate part of you will not be met there.” — Jeanette Winterson, “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?”
Last week, some friends and I went to see the documentary film “Finding Vivian Maier.”  Street photography can show glamorous fashion, the hardship of someone living in poverty, the hustle and bustle on the streets, or (my favorite) a range of unique, individual emotions and personalities. Vivian was good at capture all those things.
When I look at Maier’s pictures, I wonder how she got so close and managed to still catch people naturally, even thought some of her subjects were staring back at her and they did not look happy. But perhaps that was natural…
The beginning of the documentary, you are seeing Vivian as a bit quirky but as a brilliant, undiscovered talent. There’s a mystery to be solved of who Vivian was and why she never showed her photos to the public.
She doesn’t appear to have any living relatives so the only people the interviewer can find to talk to are her previous employers — families that Maier nannied for. The view from the children, who are now adults,  is that Vivian was strange but fun and caring.
But as the documentary progresses and they speak to the families she worked for later in life, a more disturbing portrayal of Vivian emerges, one that I would rather not have heard.
And this leads to thinking about, what if your life was evaluated by your boxes of photos and possessions? Maier appeared to be a compulsive hoarder so she had more things than most people to go through. The hoarding itself became a clue to who she was. There is much conjecture about what might have driven her to this and other behaviors.
So imagine if someone did the same to you? And, horror upon horrors (at least for me), relied on the stories and opinions your employers provided about you. It makes me want to go empty my closets. Certainly the journals have to go. I’m not sure what to do about the employers. 
The question that comes to mind, and my friend Sue wrote about it in a blog post here, is it better for an artist, writer, photographer (anyone who is trying to sell or attract people to something they created) to consciously depict themselves in a certain way that they believe will draw people to their creations?

What that depiction is would depend on what you are marketing. If you write or paint creepy stuff, perhaps you need to be creepy or at least a bit mysterious even if in reality you are simply an introvert who likes to create other worlds. Or perhaps you should be as impersonal as possible so your work is judged on it’s own merit without any personal information to influence anyone.
Just from looking at Maier’s work, I had already judged she was probably odd and damaged in some way — neither of those things are a negative to me though. It was harder to take in that she could also be cruel. But there too, I’m sure I’ve done things that could be seen in that light. And all the information I have about Vivian is from other people. Not from Vivian herself.
My friend, Sue, decided to deal with the problem of someone possibly not liking her art because they read something on her blog or watched one of her videos that made them not like her by creating another site, void of her personality beyond what you pick up from the art itself.
We all do this to a point — partition ourselves for work, family gatherings, our close friends versus our acquaintances, etc. As I age though, it seems to be getting harder to pull that off. More and more, I just want to be myself — love me or leave me. And yet, I’m not very good at accepting the leave me option (abandonment issues, which  you’ll see if you go through my boxes).
Maybe that’s the hardest part about aging, this pull to be completely honest and open, accompanied by the experience that this can result in some bad stuff happening. But if I reflect on it, I think the leaving has come about more often because I wasn’t myself, which made me very unhappy and difficult to be around. Oh crap, maybe I’m still difficult to be around…
I’m still figuring out the balance. It reminds me of all the figuring out I’m doing with my camera adjustments. Change one setting and you need to also adjust the others. They are all intertwined. I get it wrong a lot. But by frequent trial and error, I hope to get it right a bit more often eventually. Hopefully, there will be a few years that I have it perfectly right before my life is over. But I’m not promising anything.

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One Comment

  1. Oh wow this one had me thinking and nodding and pondering .
    My photography helps remind me it is my choice to look for what still brings me joy ,
    even in a mind with so many past wounds .

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