Serendipity

19 07 2009

(The following was written long-hand a few days ago.)

I have always believed in the power of coincidence. Serendipity. Whatever you choose to call it. I love chance. I love taking chances. Maybe I take too many, but I believe in leaving room for happy accidents, for the “meant to be.” I believe that sometimes we get what we need in ways we could never plan.

I’m on the island. I’m sitting by the sea wall in front of the cottage on a cool, cloudy day, waiting for another ship to pass. It will come in its own time, as yesterday came when I needed it, not before. Inspiration comes, not necessarily when it is needed, but when we’re ready to receive it.

I have not been inspired at the island this week. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed my time here; I have, tremendously. It just hasn’t been one of those visits where I’m pulled, pushed, and almost desperate to take camera in hand. Life has been that way for me lately. I have been so in the moment, every moment, that to document in gelatin has seemed irrelevant, maybe even irreverent. It’s natural. It’s part of the normal cycle of an artist’s life. Still, it’s not my favorite part.

Yesterday we had some unexpected visitors, which is part of cottage life. All are welcome, no appointment required. Most are family members, some immediate and some connected via the thinnest of threads, but family still. (Once you’ve been to the cottage, you simply become family, anyway.) Yesterday’s serendipity brought Sandy to the island, a distant cousin by marriage. I liked her instantly. Somehow during the course of the day, between sips of wine and dips in the river, she mentioned that she had previously been married to a jazz musician, and that they had had a loft in New York City in the 60’s. And I knew before she said it: she had been a friend and hostess to Eugene Smith, as well as Thelonious Monk, Alice Coltrane, and several other legends-in-progress. I know the story well; as a photographer and a musician, how could I not? The jam sessions, the genius unbalanced photographer, the photographs I have committed to memory. I’m afraid I didn’t hide my shock-and-awe very well. Perhaps just as surprising was her surprise that I should know the story. (I don’t just “know” the story. I’ve savored the story, envied the characters in it, probably romanticized it, and built myself into it. If you don’t know it, you can read about it here: )

I would love to tell you more about Sandy’s story, and in time I will, with her permission; how Gene wired her flat without her knowledge, recording not just jam sessions, but personal conversations as well; how he photographed her children but signed the prints with an alias. For now, though, I’m just going to bask in the connection I now have, however tenuous, with the artist whose photographs have influenced mine more than any other, whose prints have made me cry on more than one occasion, whose work and story every photographer should be required to study.

And I’ll share with you a portrait of Sandy, whose incredible story and personality I suspect will be inspiring me for a long time to come.

(If you’re reading this, Sandy, please stop blushing.)

A ship is passing now, the Federal Kumano, pulling the water in ripples behind it. Everything in its time.

Sandy

Sandy

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4 responses

19 07 2009
Dawn Norris

So incredible!! You are always where you are supposed to be… Every moment every day. What an incredible experience came to you! Hope you’ll post more about this meeting someday:)

20 07 2009
Rachel Vogeleisen

Great story, lovely portrait.

20 07 2009
Chris Klug

Smith’s work indeed should be required study. I recently returned to Pittsburgh, one might say the site of Smith’s Waterloo (or perhaps his Trafalgar, depending) and am working to try and see if modern Pittsburgh can be made more aware of this event in its history.

25 10 2009
Dani Dorko

Cheryl,

I found and started reading your blog yesterday. Then I read Serendipity and aftrer I was shivering. And this time not because the fever I had and still have (I’m in bed with flu). Before, the whole day I was thinking about Gene, his work and my relationship to his work, and his attitude and the price he payed for each picture taken. It’s very much the same with me, so I really feel him close inside (yep, those prints made mee cry too). And going insane here in bed (for not being able to shoot my current project because of this stupid flu), I suddenly found this post and hmm.. serendipity? :) Life embraced me again.

I know this is not a big story, but it was something very important for me.

best,

Dan

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