Looking through

May 16, 2006

When I was a little girl, someone gave me an Easter egg that captured my imagination.

In England, Easter eggs were (and maybe still are) a big deal. The ones I received from relatives and family friends were typically milk chocolate, hollow, and sometimes filled with chocolate candies. My parents rationed the amount of chocolate I ate, but I didn’t care because I wasn’t wild about chocolate anyway.

The special egg was sparkling white sugar, piped with pink and studded with sugar flowers. At one end was a small hole through which you looked to see a magical, fairytale scene inside—a tiny cardboard diorama. It came from overseas and was not—in my mind anyway—an egg to be eaten. I treasured it for a year or so until it got gray and sticky from my constant handling, and my mother said (very kindly—I bear her no malice) that it had to go.

Whenever I think of my interest in photographing things framed by and seen through something else, that egg comes to mind. Is that where it started? No, not entirely. There was a chapter in one of the P. L. Travers books that I loved as a child. Mary Poppins takes the Banks children to see a pavement artist and, magically, they step into the scene he has created in pastels on the sidewalk. I wanted to do that, become part of a painting, a more romantic reality than the one I was in. And if I’m to be honest, I still do think about stepping through the picture frame into another reality.

What is illusion and what’s reality? I don’t know. Here is one of my “reality framed” images: the National Gallery of Art east building seen through a piece of sculpture on the Mall.