The Beauty of Ordinary Things

DSC_1311 (4)We’ve passed them by a thousand times, those everyday objects – humble, utilitarian things which serve and make our lives more convenient. And yet we usually take these objects for granted; in fact, we never really notice them.

And that’s a shame, because, if you take the time to look a little more closely, a bit of beauty can usually be found in the most ordinary of things. My interest in macro nature photography has taught me this. I find wonder in the spiral of a common snail’s shell. A minuscule mushroom’s delicate gills demand closer inspection. And the subtle rosy shade of a lady’s-slipper makes me stop to take just one more photo, even though I’ve already captured dozens of images of the same flower.

I will always photograph wild things, but recently my focus has settled on human-made objects. I spend time each summer at an island cottage, the house my grandfather built in the early 1900s. Like many rustic cabins, it was filled over the years with cast-offs and hand-me-downs, those utensils and furnishings that were no longer wanted at home but were “too good” to throw away. In our case, some of these pieces date back to the Victorian and Edwardian periods, when objects, no matter how humble, were manufactured with attention to detail and made to last. The first generation to come here, more than a hundred years ago now, used them; the next relegated them to a high shelf or fireplace mantel; those generations which followed (including my own) now largely ignore these finely-wrought things, dismissing them as quaint yet unremarkable relics of a bygone age.

Lately, my interest in these neglected antiques has been sparked in part by the knowledge that we may not be able to hold on to the cottage much longer. So, I took the cracked milk pitchers and kerosene lamps and rusty flat irons out of dark cabinets and down from dusty shelves and began documenting them in photographs. As I did so, I started to truly appreciate their utilitarian yet lovely lines or worn, hand-applied paint, the meticulous workmanship, the scratches, grooves and chips which whisper of long-ago lives. And I began to wonder at the history of each piece: where was it made? Who brought it here? What was it used for?

My mother is the oldest surviving member of our cottaging clan and has spent every summer of her life on her beloved island. When we’re at the house, gathered around the sturdy pine dining table – also crafted by her father – she reminisces about the early days and her youth here. She loves this place and all its quaint bits and quirky bobs dearly. One day soon, before time has run out, I’ll sit down with her to record on paper the stories behind these humble, beautiful ordinary things.

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