My camera stopped working months ago. Nothing else is quite like it. I have another camera, which is larger and more powerful (and newer), but my Canon was what I carried in my purse and used the most. I appreciated its color correctness, the decent photos it produced in low-light conditions, and of course its familiarity. As I used this camera I became a somewhat better photographer. Without it, my existence is far more subjective, more amorphous, and I think more about what a camera cannot see.
One of the most blessed hours of the day is five o’clock, when workers stream out into the city streets, liberated from their jobs. The sunlight floats down along the endless facade of a pillared bank, intersecting with each tread, whether heavy or light.
This is just a funny self-portrait that I took one day at the office when I was goofing off. I can’t even remember now how I did it. All I know is it entailed using a mouse, a point-and-shoot, and Photo Booth.
So much for professionalism, on so many scores.
Nonetheless, looking at this picture kindles in me a feeling of proud kinship with those clever Renaissance painters who enjoyed finding ways to paint themselves into a scene.
There was a joyful moment of discovery when I found that I could use Photo Booth to take a picture of my office, with me in it, using the mouse at a distance. Then, I think, I took a picture of that.
Three weeks ago, on the first day of spring, Celia took a picture of what she was wearing: a heavy suede coat, with a hood, heavy gloves, and everything. The weather was so bad, it was almost amusing. . . .
Three weeks on, little has changed. Still wearing a winter coat, with temperatures in the low 30s this morning.
The window-washers think nothing of what they do, hanging and spinning like spiders off the sides of our buildings. To those of us inside, they are sometimes a nuisance (especially if they appear outside our bedroom windows before 9 a.m.), but there’s also something bold and outlandish in their craft.
A memorable storm enveloped my office one February day. I had barely set down my coat or caught my breath before the big window that I have written of before beckoned me.
I looked out. The snow had intensified the colors of the buildings and muffled Chicago’s customary noise. The storm was as intense as it was unexpected. The mid-day streets were unusually silent.
Looking to the north, I was surprised to see the Mies van der Rohe building disappearing, as the flurry of snow contracted my view.
The snow fell heavily. Soon I could see only a handful of the nearest buildings. The newest of them was the Standard Club, which went up in the 1920s. A curious feeling stole over me as I saw myself surrounded by such old things. Everything in sight was at least ninety years old.
My attention was drawn to the magnificent stone ornaments of the Monadnock Building flanking my view.
To the south were the Fisher and Old Colony Buildings. Like my own building, they are well over a hundred years old.
Conditions were curiously similar to the most persuasive account I have read of time-travel, Jack Finney’s wonderful historical novel called Time and Again. In it, the narrator travels back more than a century as an evening snowstorm envelops New York’s Central Park and the lodgings he has taken at the Dakota Hotel. Can we slip back through time, in those moments when the past asserts itself powerfully enough?
The only question in my mind was how far back I would go. Would I be carried back to the 1920s, when the Standard Club was new, or as far back as the 1890s and the glorious razzle-dazzle of the Gilded Age?
All images © 2013 Celia Her City