I stood still, with my back against the barn, and my hands clasped in a knot behind my back so I wouldn’t interfere.
She had my camera in her hands, a big Nikon that covered her whole face like a mask. A cool spring breeze waltzed in her hair, and she knelt down to photograph single blades of grass.
And peeling paint.
And an old drill.
And a weed.
I stayed back, witnessing the way a child saw with her soul. I watched how she tilted the camera, knelt lower and reframed messes into magnificence. It stirred something new in me, like a hidden room in my heart had been unsealed.
The next best thing to capturing beauty yourself is this: Watching someone you love discover it for herself. And then again, maybe it’s not the next best thing. It might be The thing.
She held the silver button halfway down to focus on a rusty hinge then — click — beauty snagged.
She asked me for a turn with the Nikon earlier that day, while I stood on a wooden chair to get a photo of a bird perched outside the kitchen window. She asked if she could borrow the camera after church.
So after Sunday dinner, we went for a walk — one girl’s quest to uncover our photogenic world, and maybe a bit of herself.
She has watched me for years, sprawled out on grass, standing on countertops, dlimming lights, adjusting settings on a fancy camera that is too smart for its 40-year-old owner.
Years ago, someone teased me that if I’m always looking through the camera, I’ll miss the bigger picture. I’ll only see what’s happening through the lens, while most of the world passes by. I just smiled, and kept on snapping. For I’ve learned this: I have only seen anything when I’ve stood still long enough to really see any-thing.
Here on a neighbor’s lawn, my daughter spread out on the grass to take a picture of a dandelion. She said she liked “the textures.” She found a muddy wheel, an old stump, a bucket of nuts and bolts, and a reflection of herself in an old mirror, leaning against a shed.
She pointed at an old door knob, an epiphany: “See Mom? Look at this. People don’t pay attention to stuff like this. And think how important a doorknob is, Mom. You could never open a door without one.”
She snapped her 152nd frame — of an old doorknob on a May afternoon, right here on a farm in Iowa.
She let the camera fall to her chest, and pointed again: “Look at how pretty that is, Mom. Do you see that?”
And sure, I looked. Not at the door, but at the adamant girl, stubborn after beauty. And yes, I saw how beautiful that was, not the doorknob, but the child walking through a doorway, straight into a new way of seeing.
All photos by Lydia Lee. Used with permission. She hopes to enter some of these as 4-H projects in the county fair in July.