You can’t hide, Vivian
You worked hard to keep us from seeing you straight on, didn’t you? That was hard, I imagine, when you walked through your day with a camera around your neck.
No, you put yourself on the other side. The other side of what, that’s what I wonder.
Was it the other side of life altogether? You didn’t have your own child, but you cared for the children of others. You never really had your own place. Maybe you didn’t want to be on this side of life, the messy, screwy, unpredictable side.
I know you can’t answer, and even if you could, you might be offended at the question, or, even more likely, not quite clear why I’m asking. Why does it matter and who am I to speculate?
But you can’t hide, Vivian. Who you are peeks through. And your reflection shows up.
You hardly ever shot yourself head on, full face, and when you did you are expressionless. You’re not giving us anything directly. You do give us your reflection, though, the shots that you take of yourself in shop window mirrors, or reflected in a chrome-plated trim, or your distinctive outline in shadow, your hat tilted down.
That let’s us know where you are, right beside us, looking out. Your lens is like a finger pointing to this and that, showing us the things that want us to notice.
It’s what you show us that draws you out of hiding, Vivian. You show us the life around us. The people are commonplace, the rough woman who walks around the block, the children playing in the shadow of the alley, the old men and women moving slowly down the street. You show them to us in their exceptional simplicity, their unexceptional uniqueness.
That’s how I know who you were, Vivian.
I just want to ask you one thing, if you’ll let me.
What did it feel like to stay on the outside? Were you content there? Were you complete?
I know that you had to stay at a remove. That is the only way to see what you needed to see. But when I was young and starting out as a writer, that remove tormented me. How could I write about life if I wasn’t inside life? But how could I see what I needed to see if I got into life in a deep way?
I respect you for what you did, you know. Someone else might wonder at the emptiness, or be awed by the piles of work you did without notice. I know that you wanted to see everything. Your photos tell me that you did.