About 4 years ago, while visiting an art gallery in New York City, my Wife and I acquired a lovely, moody, charcoal drawing entitled Riverbank, by artist Dozier Bell. The piece is tiny, smaller than 4”x5”. And it is dark — mostly blacks and deep grays of water, trees, and clouds. For four years, this drawing has quietly occupied an unassuming wall in my home, competing with much larger, “louder” works that we’ve collected over the years.
Riverbank has grown on me. I find myself studying it, trying to understand its magic. Everything about it is understated: small size, monochrome, minimal detail, muted tones. Yet at this time in my life, both as a photographer and as a person, it is clearly what I need.
An unspoken bond occurs between artist and collector. The collector is effectively saying:
“I commit to living with this beautiful object you created. It will occupy a slice of valuable physical and mental space in my life. I will see it thousands of times, over many years, in times of happiness, and in times of sadness.”
The artist is declaring:
“I created this thing for you. It was inspired by love. Creating it consumed precious hours of my life. I crafted it expertly, as I have been practicing my art for years. This may sound crazy, but I’m asking you to place this thing in your home — to live with it for the rest of your life. You might not realize this today, but the decisions I made about this object will become apparent to you as time passes, and you will be a better person for it. Trust me.”
For me, Riverbank is delivering on this promise. It’s as if the artist had added:
“I know there are much larger, more colorful paintings out there, but the elements I chose for you in this drawing are the ones that truly matter. This is what you need, and no more.”
In studying Riverbank, and in juxtaposing it with my current approach to photography, I’m learning that in even the most mundane moments — when I am not visiting a “postcard” location, when I am not insulated from the trappings of life — I can find beauty. It is all around me. I just need to search for it, to identify its clues amidst the noise. And when I finally detect it, I can set about the business of trying to capture what I see in my mind’s eye. I might not always succeed in capturing it, but the joy and satisfaction of having detected it is reward enough.
I draw inspiration from Riverbank. And, for the record, I plan to live with it for the rest of my life.