“Imperfection inspires invention, imagination, creativity. It stimulates. The more I feel imperfect, the more I feel alive.”
― Jhumpa Lahiri
Daylight had mostly given up. No matter. I pulled up my inadequate hoodie, hunched into the rain, and kept my head down. Funny where you find gifts.
As I walked, I noticed how lovely the fallen leaves looked spattered against the dark pavement. The low lighting gave their colors an eerie glow, and the wetness added a glittery sheen.
There was a time I would look for perfect specimens…the maple leaves with the deepest reds or most outrageous oranges. The oak leaves with shiny burgundy hues and dark brown veins. Perhaps even a yellow birch leaf with a delicate ruffled edge. I disregarded any with perceived flaws because, well, I believed irregularities were “less than.”
Now I know better. And surprisingly, an early lesson about the bliss of imperfections came from a man I barely knew. His name is Russell Monk. (RussellMonk.com)
Some years ago, I was lucky enough to go on a photographic tour of China and Tibet. Russell was the professional photographer traveling with our group and quickly had me wishing to improve my skills. Awesomeness is like that, and Russell’s eye for imagery and storytelling is incredible.
I tried to absorb the ease in which he instinctively knew how to capture the essence of people and places, but felt shy and nervous. His advice to me was to shoot, shoot, shoot. Develop a “voice,” and for heaven’s sake, stop being so timid about going after a shot.
Russell also famously said, and I quote, “We are in CHINA. Why can’t I get a f**k’n proper cup of tea?” I still smirk about that comment and other Russell-isms, liberally sprinkled with f-bombs, from that trip. But I digress.
One day I happened to be sitting next to Russell as our van traveled along. He thrust a magazine in my face and said, “Look at the young woman on the cover!”
Me (once I could back my head far enough away to see): “What about her?” I shrugged. She was young, flawless, and everything our American culture values.
Russell (exasperated): “They have airbrushed everything interesting off of her. She is blank. There is absolutely nothing to draw in the viewer. Where is her uniqueness? Where is her character?”
I studied his face. Was he kidding? Don’t men crave the fantasy of unblemished feminine perfection? Had he not read his share of Playboy magazines and the male-constructed female ideal?
I don’t know.
What I clearly saw in Russell’s eyes was disappointment. He was serious. He, as an incredible portraitist, revels in what people feel they need to hide. And loathe. And apologize for. Russell sees the wonder of experiences and humanness and celebrates it all in his images.
And at that moment I felt a seismic shift in how I viewed people, places, and things, too.
Russell was/is oh-so-spot-on. The dimples, scars, freckles, wrinkles, jiggles, lopsided grins, crooked teeth, and mismatched anything and everything are epic-ly more intriguing in people than not.
I now study the ruins of a building with excitement. I view the patina of something used and “over-loved” with fascination. And yes, I look for wet autumn leaves that are worn, shredded, gnawed-upon, and infinitely beautiful because of the day to day ravages.
Thank you, Russell. I hope you never stop capturing life behind– and in front of–the lens, and that you have found that f**k’n proper cup of tea.
Here are a few imperfect photos, un-enhanced, un-posed, from my walk. (Taken with the iPhone):