Over your shoulder


There you moved, in and out of the crowd, together but not really together. You’ve already seen the pictures hanging on the walls; you’ve read the descriptions and marveled at the quality. You’re not an expert, but you’ve been moved by the sheer technical mastery, and you now know something of this photographer’s journey.

She’s here, in this museum and gallery, for the first time. She’s visiting her in-laws for the holiday and interviewing for a fellowship. You’ve kinda stayed in touch since high school—more in recent years than before. She still has that wonderfully bright laugh, and the decade since graduation has sharpened her wit.

Lunch was quick, sprinkled with talk of careers, relationships, life. Afterward, you saw Venus, the dance of light, color and sound surrounding the Goddess, covering her. ((http://www.flickr.com/photos/agrinberg/2059315922)) Your shadows form in six places, and you become part of the art, entwined in it. You move up the stairs.

Winding your way through the hall for the second time in a month, you see her. You’re on different sides of the room, looking at different pictures, wary of the other patrons who are trying to grasp the insight of another person’s creativity. You glance back over your shoulder, and that’s when it happens:

She smiles.

She’s lost to the world right now, for this moment. She’s taking in the view in front of her, the work of a truly gifted artist. There’s something familiar about the photo, but seeing it here, now, among the artist’s other works, brings out some new dimension. There’s happiness in her eyes, knowledge in her face, and then you find you’re smiling with her.

She doesn’t know you’re watching her, engrossed as she is in the picture, in her inner reflection. You look away, suddenly conscious that you’ve invaded some private moment, tiny as it is. You experience some small measure of pride: this was your idea, to come here today.

She continues on, and so do you. You bump into each other several times during the next hour, as you finish this exhibit and then another. She tells you about her green-chile curry, and other experimental recipes. You laugh about tortillas. You’ll drive her back to Alexandria, and drop her off. And later, you’ll remember that instant when you saw your friend smile.

(This was a bit different for me, I know. Have you ever found pleasure in knowing that a friend or loved one is happy? It was an interesting sensation for me: one I’ve felt before, but somehow more meaningful this Sunday. I was compelled to write about the experience.

For those interested, we were at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in D.C., one of my favorite places in the city. We first stopped to see Loop, before moving on to the Annie Leibovitz exhibit. I can’t remember, as I write this, which photo triggered my friend’s reaction—so much for my reporter’s eye for detail. We finished with the Ansel Adams exhibit, which is amazing beyond words.)

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