“They understand, though they are poor. I’m like them. I love them, I know them. Their lives are small, but their dreams are vast.”-Baptiste, from the film The Children of Paradise.
As I sit down to write this, it’s been exactly 11 days since I got back form Melbourne, Australia. I am still trying to get my biological clock back on track and catch full night of sleep. But I am happy to put myself through that for the experiences I live through my travels. Melbourne turned out to be a very important one. A melting pot of people, languages and cuisines. Much like New York, but without the stress or dog-eat-dog attitude (and much better food if I’m totally honest). However, most importantly Melbourne gifted me a great reminder about the reasons behind my own artistic work.
It was 4pm-ish one afternoon. I was photographing a dancer in the middle of the tram tracks right next to Flinders Station. Crowds of people walked in and out of the station at a time. Suddenly, I heard a loud gasp behind me. I stopped to look. A woman held her hand to her chest, eyes wide open as was her mouth. Standing in awe, a moment now recorded in my mind forever. She turned to me and said “I’m so amazed ! In 65 years that I have lived in Melbourne, I have never seen such a beautiful thing. A ballet dancer performing in the middle of the streets.” Her name was Sylvie. With teary eyes, she walked over to the dancer, gave her a big hug, and left us. My heart dropped, I cried inside a little. She had made my day in a way she didn’t even realized.
You see, that day I wasn’t feeling particularly at my best. Earlier in the morning I had a shoot scheduled with a dancer from a local ballet company. When I woke up at 6am to get ready for the shoot I was surprised to read a message from the dancer. He was canceling the session under the the pretext that his company had asked him not to proceed because in his words “they have a particular style of branding”. I was shocked. In over four years working with dancers from mayor companies from all over the world, nothing like that had ever happened to me before. That situation made me feel somewhat sad and for the rest of the day had me questioning my work all together. I am not exactly sure what the dance company’s “particular style of branding” was that would conflict with my artwork, but I can take a guess.
Yet, Sylvie’s words that afternoon and her face of pure amazement brought me right back to life. It reminded me and reaffirmed my convictions as to why I do what I do. Bringing art to the streets, close to where the everyday folks can appreciated it and be moved by it. By witnessing it live during my sessions as well as through my images. There is where I need to be, in the streets. With the people. And I should always stand proud to be there.
The art world has many different faces. Sadly, some of those faces are of elitism and classism. Pretending art should only belong to the wealthy. Excluding so many from the joy and emotions art can bring. No matter where my works end up being hanged or collected some day, I will never get the same satisfaction or forget moments like the one I experienced with Sylvie.
I shall never again forget or question the weight of my work. Of how utterly strong and transformative art can be. It appeals to the very core of our existence and offers us and escape from everyday struggles. Art is power. I will always be gratified to be a vessel to that power. Not for the few but for all.
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