It is September 2, 2009 in the late afternoon on a tiny island in the northern waters of Minnesota. I am sitting at the piano with tears in my eyes, catching the last few lines of a song. It’s that breathless, joyful moment when I feel the song taking its final shape. It feels like it’s a good song, though I won’t know for certain until a few days go by.
There is a gentle knock at the door. “Hi, Barbara. It’s Nancy. I just peeked in and noticed how beautiful the afternoon light is. May I come in and shoot some pictures?”
Nancy G. Johnson is a Twin Cities based photographer who has come to the island for a week of creating in the embrace of nature. She is working with large format black and white photography at this time, developing her photos in the old way — in a darkroom. I gladly let her in and she sets up her equipment.
As I put the finishing touches on the song, I hear the gentle click of the shutter catching the moment. I feel at ease in her presence.
Suddenly, the irony of this moment strikes me. My song, “Perfect Day,” is made up of a series of images that capture the previous day’s delicious experiences. Things like the “brilliant watermelon dawn watched while half in dreaming,” “the sun’s hot shimmer warming chill skin” and “ripe tomatoes in a bowl, sweet basil crushed between the fingers.”
As I am full of joy while catching these images of my perfect day, Nancy is catching my image with her camera. We are both doing the exact same thing through distinctly different methods. I am using words and music; Nancy is using photography.
After returning home, Nancy generously gifted me with a framed copy of one of the photos she took that day. It sits on a stand in my living room, which also serves as my voice coaching studio. Many clients have remarked about the magical quality of the photograph. For one thing, it looks like it was taken back in the 1940’s. The cabin lends itself to that impression. There are no modern conveniences in sight – and the place was originally built back in the 1930’s. The piano is an antique with beautiful carving that gleams in the afternoon light. People say they can sense my happy absorption as I write the last few lines of the song.
I am so grateful that Nancy knocked on my cabin door that September afternoon. Her artistry added another layer of joy to the experience of composing “Perfect Day.” As I look at her beautiful photo every day, it reminds me that the arts have the power to transport us to other times and places – and perhaps more importantly – into the lived experience of other people.
Thank you, Nancy, for catching me catching my perfect day.