Always the same, but always different is the sky that lies above our heads. During the lock down between March and May, due to the catastrophic, global presence of COVID-19, walking or running around the neighbourhood was one of the freedoms that kept me sane. It was a way to stay connected to the physical world without inviting any unnecessary risks. Living in Cyprus means you need a car to go about your day (a good excuse to avoid walking). But as I have been living in the centre of Nicosia since I was five years old, I always had the chance to walk to my destination without stopping to catch a breath. Walking always gave me the liberating feeling of observing and letting my thoughts be guided by the images, sounds and smells that I encountered along the way. During the quarantine, meeting friends, going to bars, clubs or to the gym, teaching in an actual classroom and all that constituted my past life had vanished. I was left with a virtual classroom, virtual relationships and walking or running in the afternoons. It was then that I started really noticing the strangeness of the sky.
Although it’s so familiar, an entity always there, it looked different to my eyes every time I went out. I do not remember seeing the same sky twice during those days. The ever-changing sky, with myriad colours, different clouds forming peculiar patterns, hues of yellow, blue and purple, never failed to move me and the variety of it all was in stark contrast with my own stuck state. Maybe it was my need for a change. I started photographing (as an amateur photographer) the different patterns, thinking obsessively that the sky is nature’s canvas, one of the ways that nature has the chance to show us its feelings and moods. I still carry with me today that soothing feeling I derived from that activity, acting as a kind of therapy, as I am writing this piece, (May 2020, a couple of days before the lockdown ends and we return to the new kind of normal). A new normal that no one can really put into words or really predict how it will be.. I guess the only constant is that we will still have the sky, always there and always changing.
The fact that the sky never reproduced the exact same pattern reminded me of a quote from Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, in relation to photography: ‘What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.’ This capturing of a single moment, keeping a piece from a life forever, a dead moment deriving life from the medium of photography, reflects the universal need of humans to preserve memories, since without memories we would be rootless beings floating on air without a destination, repeating the same old routes, the same old patterns. Photographs ground us, remind us of who and where we were, the different thoughts we had when we were capturing a unique, fleeting moment or when a moment captured us. When we look at a photograph, we are not only reminded of the thoughts and feelings we experienced at that particular moment in the past, we are reminded of the thoughts we had the first time we looked at it, the second and the hundredth time, how a feeling of excitement can be easily replaced by a feeling of nostalgia or even embarrassment (especially when you look at photographs from when you were a teenager) simply because time passes, and with it we change. Different feelings also arise when we look at photographs of people who used to be part of our daily lives but were at some point kicked out of it because of a conflict or mere fate, photographs of places we visited, photographs of close friends, photographs of grandparents and uncles and aunts that we never had the chance to meet because death took them before we even had the chance to be born.
But when it comes to the sky (and other nature photography) I have one, constant feeling. Even though I have taken and I have seen countless of photographs of the sky with different hues, taken at different times of the day, with sun or thunder, I always have the same feeling when I look at the sky or a photograph of it: awe. I look at how beautiful, massive and never ending it is and I feel small. I feel a part of something bigger. I feel nostalgia for simpler days. I feel almost inhuman, like I am (for a second) an alien to this world.
Moonshine – Jose Olivarez
the poets are right about the moonlight.
i take my spot of sky & deposit it
into a savings account. only after
the bank confiscated our house
did i understand. roses
don’t grow without pricked hands.
i didn’t have to spend a summer in a freezer
packing lunch meat to know the value
of sunlight. my mom didn’t have
to spend a decade wiping down floors to appreciate
education. when i give you a bouquet of roses,
i give you a bouquet of bloody hands.
a handful of dirt & the worms that doted on your roses.
when i take my piece of sky out of the bank,
it’s smaller. the drunks are right about moonshine
The poem titled ‘moonshine’ by Jose Olivarez, a great contemporary American poet with an original poetic voice, who is the son of Mexican immigrants and a Harvard graduate, was another source of inspiration that motivated me to start photographing the sky with such dedication. It’s a poem that deserves an essay of its own, but for the sake of not getting off point, I will just merely touch its surface. The poem employs an ironic, factual tone, a tone that puts a veil of security on top of the words, insists on their truthfulness and thus resists any possibility of questioning its content. In the poem, romantic imagery (moonshine, rose) is intertwined with elements of the mundane, everyday life (freezer, packing lunch). The lack of capital letters after the dots implies that there is no hierarchy in the content presented in the poem, as romanticism, financial problems and the mundane, harsh everyday life are all one and the same. I feel that this poem describes humanity’s relationship with nature, money, and romanticism in the 21st century perfectly. How we sacrifice creative practice, taking on jobs we do not really enjoy, in order to survive and at the end all that we are left with is always something less. My favourite line of the poem is ‘I take my spot of sky’, as a photograph is always a smaller part of something bigger, it’s more of a frame rather than an actual representation of a whole. When I take a photograph of the sky, I too ‘take my piece’ of the world, a constant struggle to feel part of something bigger, by creating the illusion of belonging, by presenting to others how I see that piece, how I struggle to take some sort of little ownership of the fleeting moments that make up my waking life.