Lights and Reflections

I’m a photographer. My father was a chemical engineer who worked with the plastics in film and my mother was a painter, gardener, interior and exterior design enthusiast. So, by nature and nurture I am very observant of my surroundings, especially light and reflections. Actually when I was five, I remember taking a drawing of a stick figure to my mother with dreams of praise and future refrigerator mountings dancing through my head. Instead, she took the paper from me, tilting her head to look at it and said something that has troubled and guided me until today. “It’s ok…but where’s your light source?” That was something I had never heard of and have never since stopped trying to identify.
This brings me to my topic today, light and the human need for it. I have been growing increasingly troubled by something I notice in Brazil. In homes and apartments here (especially older ones) there are built-in servant quarters for live-in maids and nannies. There are separate elevators, entrances and almost everything an American might need to start mentally flashing back to a more segregated era in our history. It however, in my opinion, is not a race problem here in as much as it is class and different develop rates of geographic regions. Also to be fair, it is becoming more and more outdated. The middle class here is growing and so are the wages for maids and “help” in general… but I digress. My current issue is with the bathrooms for the live-in workers. What I’ve noticed is that besides being terribly small for the most part, they usually don’t have windows, sometimes there are no lights and I’ve never seen a mirror. Maybe I’m vain to notice that but something about that combined with all the Brazilian art I see where the people have no faces (just blanks. No nose, eyes, lips, nothing. I see this a lot) is beginning to weigh on my mind. It’s feels to me like it all might be a bit dehumanizing.
Let me stop there and say that I don’t know why things are the way they are here and I will never really know. It’s not my culture and I’m a guest. I can compare, theorize and guess but I’ll never really know. I’m also sure that the view from inside America may appear dehumanizing to some in many ways. In fact, two years ago I worked in the catering business. I was very happy and felt lucky to have the part time employment. It wasn’t my dream job, but it was work. One day after several months, something strange happened. I was pouring the water for the guests before their meal as I had done a dozen times before. Silently and invisibly as possible I was bobbing and weaving through the tables and the guests, when I felt a hand lightly grasp my arm. I looked down and saw a woman not much older than me smiling up and me. “Thank you” she said with warm eye contact. “What is your name?”. It occurred to me suddenly while I was answering her… It hit me hard almost unleashing a flood of tears…no one there had ever asked me my name. Not only that, why hadn’t I asked more people I dealt with their names. The checkers, clerks, janitors, waiters, cooks, drivers…why hadn’t I noticed they were human more?
People are different. My father made it a point to learn everyone’s name he dealt with and I have seen people here go above and beyond the call of duty for their employees. I guess, all I’m saying is that sometimes a little light, noticing and reflecting back, is all it takes to make someone’s day. I know this first hand. A little spotlight on their humanity and appreciation of their individual features and services… whatever they may be, goes a long way.


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