Wednesday, September 29, 2010
A few weeks ago in my posting about clichés, I questioned how original any of us can ever truly be, given the billions of people on the planet. What are the odds that any thought or idea or experience is truly original?
This idea came to me again this weekend when on vacation in Wine Country with my husband and girlfriend. We stumbled upon an outdoor festival on the main town square in Sonoma and wandered through the booths of jewelers, ceramic artists, and painters. As we passed one booth on the way to the wine tastings, my husband stopped me and pointed to a photograph that was framed on the far wall of a man’s display of European photographs. They were the type I’ve seen often – huge photos of quaint Italian hillside towns, French bistros with white awnings and pots of red flowers, cottages with doorways of blue peeling paint.
The photo my husband pointed to did look familiar. It was of a red shuttered window on the side of a house, with vines growing along the wall and exterior walls of blue and peach. The subject – this house - looked similar to a photo I had taken years ago. I walked through the man’s booth and saw that he had taken several shots of this same house, and they were all now framed for purchase prices of hundreds of dollars.
It couldn’t be the same house, right? I mean, what were the odds? Europe is filled with quaint old houses with peeling paint, shutters, and vines. But at my husband’s urging, I sought out the artist who was taking a payment from a customer and asked him where he took the photo.
“In Athens,” was his response.
“Oh, really? Where?” I had taken my photo in Athens, also.
“Anafiotika.” He probably figured he could throw me off by being specific, but I countered his reply.
“Yes, on the little walk between the Plaka and the Acropolis?” I told the man that I had taken a photo of the exact house, and he looked at me blankly and then took money from another customer.
My husband didn’t understand why the man wasn’t friendlier. He should have been surprised at the odds, right? But I understood the man. By telling him I had photographed the same house, I was stealing away a bit of his originality, his creativity. I didn’t tell him that my photo had also been framed and had won entry into a juried art show. That would have usurped even more of his “artist” stature.
Okay, so we took photos of the same exact house in a remote section of Athens. But instead of taking it as an insult, why not take it as a release of pressure? Why try so hard to be perfect? Why try so hard to be original? Instead, we should just do our best to seek out beauty, and if it’s not perfectly original, so what? Taking that same photo in Athens is proof of our linkage, our connection. We saw the same thing, paused in exactly the same place, and captured the moment to share with others. When we’re unoriginal, we’re connected to others, showing our universal human traits. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.