Before i left for the lovely land of Budapest I had the distinct pleasure and honor of photographing my across-the-street-neighbor Phyllis.
In a few words she is: lively, sweet, feisty, honest, lovely(of course), clever, witty, genuine, incredibly interesting, shy yet has an inner vogue model, kind, and did I mention lovely?
I am planning on making these photos into a photo book and creating a storyboard of the images. I had a wonderful time documenting her in her incredibly awesome home (which she personally did all the wall paper in!) Her life is anything but tame. It is full of color, in her home and in her activities. Unlike most 82 year olds I know Phyllis continues to have a desire and thirst for adventure. She takes courses at Harvard, actively announces to me her feminist views (which i love to hear), meets up with friends pretty much every day for lunch, sews like a pro(she did alterations for both of my bridesmaid dresses!!). Her home is full of treasures; unique knick-knacks decorate the windowsills and compliment the boldly patterned wall paper. Accompanying her in her daily life is her massive grey cat Maggie, who is the sweetest thing.
Through the sheer curtains light poured in. My heart lept as my mind filled with creativity. Her house is reminiscent of a Rembrandt painting with the soft, diffused, perfect light dripping through the windows and spilling on to the floor, gleaming through the glass birds and silhouetting the ceramic unicorn in the window of the upstairs reading nook. She is at first apprehensive and repeatedly says “why did i agree to do this?!” “You’re helping me with my photography!” I say to her. I ask her to tell me stories from her life and about certain precious artifacts found in her home. I tell her of the times as a child that i recall thinking her house was from the secret garden, with roses the size of my face and a plethora of sweet fragrances encompassing a small walled garden with white iron furniture and two plastic penguins guarding the mystery of her small back yard. The air of mystery and enchantment still circles through the house even as I unlock the secrets of her home that I so long desired to discover as a child.
Phyllis, to no surprise, is a natural at being photographed. We start with simply sitting in a rocking chair positioned perfectly in the white haze of the afternoon light. Her gaze seems to be pointed inward rather than at me, which I don’t mind, it makes for a beautiful image.
We move to another room, her dining room. She recalls the time when she moved into that house and they had no furniture yet, but the house came stocked with crystal chandeliers. Naturally, she and her family had a picnic on the floor, underneath the chandelier.
We move upstairs to my favorite part of her home, that I don’t remember ever seeing before. The walls are papered with light blue and white Victorian patterns. An explosion of light comes from the window facing my house. Through the white sheer curtains i can see my own home, echoing the baby blue that encompasses my eyes. It is in this space above the stairs that she begins to feel more comfortable. “would you like to see a little leg?!” she asks as she sits in her matching white and blue arm chair in the white and blue corner. We laugh. I engage the shutter. I am so in awe of her beauty and the beauty of her home. “Phyllis…you’re a babe!” “oh,” she says and laughs, “i feel like Marilyn Monroe” “psh she’s got nothing on you!” I confidently reply.
We move through the rooms, each one lovelier then the next. Her bedroom is papered with large pint and green rose print…her own personal rose garden as she describes it. Her cat, all the while watching us closely, clearly interested in the strange activity of the day.
I shoot and shoot and we move outside to the walled garden that I envied so much as a little girl. It is just as I thought it would be; small, secret, magical. She sits in the patio furniture and her perfectly aged skin soaks up the summer sun. She picks a small plant from the ground and inhales the sweet fresh aroma. I partake in this act as well, breathing in the scent of summer and of this place. More and more photos are taken and she warms up to the camera perfectly. We move to the front of the house were i get some shot of her and the lovely brick house with the ivy engulfing the walls.
200 pleasant street.
The shoot ends with Phyllis giving me a snuggie that she didn’t want (score!), a hug good bye, and good lucks for my trip to Hungary. I tell her to come over anytime she wants too. A final parting hug is had, I turn to go and i hear my name so sweetly called.
“You know what?….I love you…Yes. I love you.”
and try to fight back the overwhelming urge to cry.
“PHYLLIS!” i shout…”i love you too! give me another hug!!!”
another hug is had.
I turn and depart back across the street I hear her door close, and like at the end of every time I watch pride and prejudice, i cry.
Tears of happiness. I was just overwhelmed by her kindness and passion for life, and willingness to be photographed despite her better judgment; tears of thanks and of sadness to be leaving for so long and not seeing her until December.
It was, without a doubt, one of the best days of summer i have ever had in my measly 21 years of existence.
Phyllis, you rock my world, you are such a lovely person.
Enjoy a glimpse of 200 pleasant street:
– L –