Monday, September 20, 2010

Kinetic Composition: Grandma's Printing Drawer

As I've mentioned before, we just moved into a new apartment this month.  What I may not have mentioned is that this has been the third move we've made in two years.  It makes me tired just typing that!  One of the rituals of unpacking and settling in that has come to mean a lot to me is putting together my Grandmother's printing drawer.  It's usually saved for the second or third week, once I've had a little peace and am ready to make whatever new place we're in into our new home.  It's perhaps my favorite part of unpacking, and it starts with this:

Next, I open a small box packed with bubble-wrapped miniatures, stones, bells, collectibles, toys, buttons, etc. and start looking for that perfect place...

I decided the first time that I arranged all of the little knick-knacks and mementos into their respective cubbies that I would keep a few placements as constant as possible.  I think back to the years when this drawer hung quietly in my grandmother's hallway in Temecula.  I try to conjure up the image of it then, and I do my best to mimic it here in my own hallway, hundreds of miles from its home.  It's a tradition that employs my photographic eye in a very kinetic way.  Instead of composing a scene through my lens and accepting all the little details I am presented with, I create the scene myself.  I build this "shot" from the basics on up, adding a complementary shape here, accenting a dominant color there.  Some corners tell stories, others are puns.  Some are tiny homages to my grandmother, my grandfather, my husband, my son.  There's a geometric challenge that I always enjoy; some objects can only fit in one particular spot, others migrate across the drawer with each successive apartment.

Before long, the printing drawer is pure nostalgia.  I can't help imagining my grandmother putting each piece carefully in its place.  I wonder to myself if she would like the way I do it, if she would approve of the placements, and of my little additions to her collection.  I wish that I had had the sense to ask her the stories behind the pieces when I was younger.  Some are easy enough to guess, but others are a mystery.  The little tools, for example, are fully functional.  I know my grandfather made clocks in his spare time, and I picture him hunched over his desk in the garage, prying little bolts with a wrench the size of his pinky finger.  The little batteries or gum boxes make me wonder if my grandma just plunked things into the squares to fill space at first.  Perhaps she would laugh to see that I've kept them in there- treating them with the same reverence as her ivory elephant pendant or little porcelain teacup.

The beauty of a photograph is that it has the potential to document and influence.  A photograph may be objective in a court of law, but it's subjective just about anywhere else.  Start looking at each individual piece of the image and soon enough, your mind will have wandered far beyond the edges of the picture.  Maybe that's why I love my Grandma's printing drawer so much...

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