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Pass it forward

There once lived a street photographer who worked as a nanny to pay the bills but went out into the world in her spare time to take photographs. She lived in New York and her pictures of the city from the 60's and 70's is a work of beauty. She clicked hundreds of thousands of photos with a small Rolleiflex camera. Upon her death, there were countless boxes of negatives auctioned away for a pittance. Curiously, she never showed her photographs to anyone even though the pictures were very good. No one even knew she was a photographer until much later after she died. She never intended for her work to be seen by the world. She was very private and may not have wanted us to see her work.


This photographer is Vivian Maier. 'Ms. Maier' as she liked to be called used to take the children she was looking after out on walks. She would take them to the big city on an adventure and shoot anything she found interesting. Ms. Maier shot photos of strangers up close, walking up to them quietly, capturing their humanity, tragedy, dignity and freedom. Is there a reason why she did this? We don't know but her photos and films are so evocative because of the feeling that Vivian was on the other side looking at her subjects. She captured these moments of recognition, of connection between herself and the strangers, just for herself.


Here is another story.

Legend has it that the king of Persia executed his first wife for adultery. Raging against all women, he married a new bride each night and had her executed the next day so that she would not have the opportunity to cheat on him. Seeing the atrocities, Scheherazade, the daughter of a vizier, decided to marry the king. Her father tried to persuade her to leave the country along with her sister. Like all willful women, Scheherazade refused and married the king. On her wedding night, she requested the king to let her bid farewell to her sister. The king invited her sister into the chamber and while the women were exchanging good byes, Scheherazade's sister requested a story as a parting gift. Scheherazade told the a story with such great rapture that the king was captivated. By dawn, she had not finished the story so she left the ending untold. The king became so curious about the ending that he spared her life for another day. She told the king a thousand stories, each night withholding the ending. So the king spared her life a thousand nights and by night thousand and one was deeply in love with her. Scheherazade used her skills to save not just her own life but the life of countless women. Her stories became The Arabian nights.


The most significant acts of creativity are usually unseen because they are a part of everyday life. Acts through which we find our place in the world (like Vivian Maier) - the paper ships we made as children; the kolams Indian women diligently create each morning; the letters estranged father's write to their daughters; that grandpa who collects stamps; the garden in the balcony that is planted with roses; the sandcastles children make on the beach, enjoying the ocean take it away at the end. If we acknowledge these simple acts each day, we realize that creativity belongs to each and every one of us. It's a part of us. We may even use it to establish a relationship with other people like Scheherazade did with her captivating stories; like pen pals who have never met but exchange every detail of their lives. It's like a game of relay where we pass the creative spirit like a baton from one person to the next.


This is the secret. Now pass it forward :)


P.S. Finding Maier is a documentary in search of the artist mentioned above.

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