As soon as the museum director said “There’s a great power in observing anything” in the orientation video, I knew it was going to be a good day.
Today we took a trip to the Getty Museum.
When we looked up from the bottom of the highway, we spotted the large white museum sitting atop a tree-scattered mountain with a beautiful view. If ever a building could be majestic, it was this one. Upon riding the tram up the mountainside and stepping into each of the massive buildings, we found the interiors rich with paintings, busts, sculptures, photos, and decorative antiques lining every wall and corner of each room. Outside of the gorgeous stone and marble walls, we zig-zagged down a staircase into the garden. There were bright green trees, plants, flowers in full bloom, and a small stream running through the garden that dropped into a waterfall. Everything about the museum was pristine, well designed, and absolutely breathtaking.
Although we stuck together as a group at first, we quickly realized that the only way to really experience the art was to experience it ourselves. As certain pieces of work caught our eye and certain exhibits drew our attention, we began to split off and explore the mysteries of the museum on our own.
I stopped and viewed many of the paintings, sculptures, and antiques, listening to the stories behind the art on an app for the museum through headphones. The last exhibit I went to and the one that captured my heart, was the photography exhibit, “Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography.”
I strolled through the wooden-floored rooms, taking in the pictures of birds with their wings spread and the moon floating through the night sky. I was pleased with the pictures; they were beautiful, but it was easy to just look at them, appreciate them, and quickly move on. Then a small corner room in the back of the exhibit really captured my attention. All of the photos in the room were by a photographer I had never heard of named Matthew Brandt.
I walked over to a series of photos by him titled Rainbow Lake. For these photos, Brandt soaked the prints of the shots he took of a lake in the actual water from the lake. I thought they were fascinating and interesting, but another piece of his was drawing me from across the room.
The first picture of the day that I was completely and utterly enthralled with and completely stopped by, was his photo titled Mathers Department Store, Pasadena, 1971. At first glance, it’s only a photograph of a building falling over. But something about it was magnetizing to me. I immediately typed in the code under the painting and listened to the picture’s story on the Getty app; I now understood I felt that way for a good reason.
Brandt’s voice filled my headphones, telling me how he looks up old photos in the Los Angeles Public Library Archive. When he finds a photo he likes, he takes it. This specific photo happened to be of a department store being torn down in Pasadena, California.
He went to the site in the picture that exists now, and swept up the dust from the ground there. Brandt didn’t go in with his camera or any other tools. Just a small bin to put the dust in.
He brought back the dust to use as pigment over the picture.
00036082-3 “Mathers Department Store, Pasadena, 1971”; Matthew Brandt, American, born 1982; Pasadena, California, United States, North America; 2013; Gum bichromate print; Image: 110.5 x 143.5 cm (43 1/2 x 56 1/2 in.); 2014.17
Brandt said he did this because he was fascinated with the “conflation of time.” I’ve always been fascinated by time and its mysteries and wonders as well. It was at this moment that I fell in love with the photo even more.
To be completely honest, when I got to the previous paragraph, I realized I still had no idea what I wanted to say in this lesson. I knew I wanted to talk about my trip to the Getty and my fascination with the Matthew Brandt photo, but I had no idea what the actual lesson was. The photograph was riveting and captivating and genius—but what did it teach me?
I originally thought: “Ooh, this could spark thought and discussion about time and the past and the present and how the two join together sometimes.” But it quickly dawned on me that from the very beginning, I knew what this lesson was truly about.
When we are captivated by something; when we are fascinated and floored and curious and in awe—we should chase after those feelings and capture them.
We should explore it, and think about it, and discuss it.
To me, that’s the definition of appreciation: loving something and caring enough to recognize it and acknowledge it.
We won’t always know or understand why we are so drawn to something.
And in a sense, it doesn’t really matter.
But what matters is that we give it the appreciation it deserves,
and then we share it with the world.
It’s like a smile for the soul.
I don’t know about you—but I think we could all use a little more of that.