This is the only successful pinhole portrait I’ve ever taken. It’s a photo of me with two of my painting assistants, Sanja and Alana, as we sat out on the sidewalk one day eating our lunch. We were sitting next to the apartment building that we were working in, surrounded by street construction equipment and barricades.
This photo is an example of how context changes everything. On the surface, this is a straightforward picture of three women, sitting outside on a sunny day, playing with a pinhole camera. But there’s more to the story. The photo was shot on September 18, 2001. One week earlier, the twin towers fell as we worked here together. We watched the unthinkable unfold on a television set in the apartment before we swiftly packed up and went our separate ways. Three days later, we reconvened and continued the job.
Look at the photo again. Does it seem any different now? Maybe yes, maybe no. For me, that pinhole photo, Sanja, Alana and that apartment are forever tied to 9/11. Looking at the photo today, I notice how tightly we’re sitting together.
This photo reminds me that when I look at art and say to myself, “That’s not very interesting,” I’m not serving myself or the art well. It’s almost always worthwhile to have the curiosity and patience to learn more about what I’m looking at, to find out if there’s a story behind the image and to try to understand what the artist is saying. Sometimes it makes no difference at all. At other times, it makes all the difference in the world.