Seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary is one of our greatest gifts. It is the indefinable appeal of Warhol’s work; the way in which he takes everyday items, such as soup cans and brillo pads, and presents them to us in a way that completely captures our imagination.
His work is the epitome of Pop Art in the 1960s. But the theme of ‘ordinary wonders’ runs through centuries of art. Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer - famous for the piece Girl with a Pearl Earring - created highly romanticised depictions of everyday life in the 17th century. His small, intimate compositions gift us the time to immerse ourselves in the quiet beauty of these paintings — the soft light filtering through a window, the subtle actions of the people he chose to portray, the sound of milk pouring from a can, the rustling pages of a letter being read.
It struck me that this is a gift we rarely bestow on ourselves nowadays. It is all too easy for us to get caught up in the bustle and monotony of everyday life and stop seeing all the remarkable things that surround us; glimpses of kindness, snapshots of humanity.
Our everyday lives tend to follow a familiar path, day after day. We switch on the autopilot, engage our muscle memory and barely notice the landscapes and lives passing by. This indifference to the familiar things around us robs us of the ability to see the value that lies behind them.
With this in mind I began to focus my lens on ordinary people in ordinary situations; amidst ordinary surroundings, doing ordinary things. From these apparently meaningless scenes, I sought out the immersive elements that allow the viewer to engage with the narrative within.
In contrast to the stillness and romanticism of Vermeer, the images in Ordinary Wonders capture dynamic moments in rushed lives. Nevertheless, the immersive experience remains the same. The impetus is directed towards you, the viewer. You are invited into the conversation. The subjects confide in you the meaning behind each situation. Step inside and find yourself present at the moment. Feel the wind play with your hair as the train speeds by. Feel the water droplets on your skin. Hear the shrill chattering of the children in the streets. Listen to the serene, rippling whisper of the wind across the lake.
Ordinary Wonders, like much of my work, asks you to question what you are really seeing. To consider whether you would have asked this question of yourself had you been in that specific situation in real life.
Meaningful or meaningless? Who decides? Familiar or unfamiliar? Where is the dividing line? Question your surroundings. Take the time to observe the little snippets of life playing out around you. View the familiar and the unfamiliar as two sides of the same coin.
We must not lose sight of the beauty in everyday life. But equally, we must seek familiarity in the unfamiliar and not be afraid of the things that seem strange and different. In a world where so many of us feel lonely and isolated, turning away from the unfamiliar excludes us from the kinship of humanity.
My hope is that the next time you cross paths with your neighbours who are strangers to you, you can reach past your natural shyness to greet your fellow human being.