This is a cross-post (from a couple days back) from my photo blog. It might make more sense in the context of that blog, but I re-read it again and I thought it deserved a reprint here.
I work in downtown Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I may have mentioned that before.
Edmonton is something of a prairie boom-town that often struggles to find an identity. Case-in-point: just this afternoon another milestone went by in our hotly-debated local quandary of whether or not we should be building a new hockey arena, and with it many questions centering around the idea of things like “the livability of the city” and “revitalizing an urban core” and “municipal investment in downtown beautification.” I try and stay out of the way of those types of questions, and instead pull my camera out while I wander around on my lunch-break looking for that identity of which we so often seem to be struggling to grasp hold.
I was walking down one street looking for this scribbled bit of art on the side of an old boarded up restaurant that I’d seen before… when I chanced upon a co-worker coming the other direction. He noted that I was carrying my camera and casually prodded: “oh, you’re taking some pictures, huh?”
“Yeah.” I shrugged. “It gets me out of the office for a few minutes to walk around.” I said, then added. “And the light is really neat down here, too.”
And then he looked up at the buildings towering over him, casting his glance upward at the looming skyscrapers glinting in the afternoon sun as if he hadn’t really bothered to look up there before, and remarked “It is very pretty this time of year, isn’t it?”
I grinned — and then we chatted for a few minutes about a project we’d recently launched together before he wandered off again.
We’d been standing beside this bit of graffiti. I’d walked down this street a few dozen times over the summer. I would pass it on my way to the guy with the hot dog cart or while skipping over to the ATM to get some cash. If you look at the full photo you can see that it’s signed by someone named “ASTRO” — so I thought that I would call this piece “Astro Boy” — and that the scribbled image might not be high art, but it’s definitely nicer looking on that quiet old restaurant window than the aging plywood that covers the rest of it.
I don’t know if any one building or any one policy can change the culture of a place, be that building an arena, a museum, or another restaurant to replace Astro Boy, here. But I’ll keep looking for that beauty we don’t often seem to notice unless we’re walking around with a camera in our hands seeking it out.