My search for Jonas Bendiksen ended in the nick of time. I was slightly dismayed, as I prepared to leave the Aperture Gallery, which hosted Magnum’s Holiday Book Party. For those of you who may not know, Magnum is the world-famous photo agency whose membership boasts the very best in the field. The whole affair had already served enough of a reality check for me – excited as I was about attending (for free) a Magnum event, I really knew very little about the photographers that were present. I flipped through books by familiar names – Susan Meiselas, Sebastiao Salgado – but most of the photographers and their works were still so foreign to me.
It felt a bit ironic for me, feeling so faceless at an event that displayed and honored the works of artists who have made careers out of capturing the ‘face’ in all its forms. Artists whose faces themselves I did not recognize. The only way I could tell who the Magnum photographers were, was by observing who held sharpies and pens to sign books with. And chances were, a number of them wore graying beards and caps that must have hid thinning hair. These were the masters after all and so they’ve been around, quite literally.
But in searching for Jonas Bendiksen, my eyes were peeled for a younger man described to me in two ways: first, as a tall, rather scraggly-looking guy who resembled Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. The other, as a man possessing these bright blue eyes. So began my mission to find a blue-eyed Shaggy, whose work I had merely discovered that very night. I purchased his book, The Places We Live, after browsing through it for the entirety of two minutes. The images spoke to me like an epiphany. The man already had a vision I was seeking for my own eyes to see. His book concentrated around families living in slum communities, a subject that still knocks constantly at the door of my most recent memory, when I stayed with the poor in Manila, whose faces I know and remember.
The place was packed, and an air of artistic energy filled the room to the brim. I had hoped that creative juices would spill over and into me, just by me being in the midst of it all. I did not feel the need to speak with anyone, really. I knew that I knew, no one. And it wasn’t about networking, nor was I about to pick anyone’s brain about the creative process that went into so-and-so’s legendary work. I barely knew so-and-so, anyhow. I just needed to be there. That much I knew.
But before the night wrapped up, I also knew that it would mean something to me to at least shake Jonas’ hand, and thank him for the direction he had unknowingly provided. Somehow I wanted him to know that, no matter how brief our exchange would be, that in me a light had flickered in response to his work, and that my motives to follow suit were pure, and sincere.
I caught Jonas as we were both about to leave. He was being hurried by a woman who appeared to be in charge of attending to the photographers. Meanwhile, I was preparing myself to leave after feeling as though I had failed to find the gangly fellow. But as I was packing up, I faintly overheard the woman call out his name, and my suspicions were confirmed when another man came up to Jonas to have him sign the book I had also bought. Relief. I knew he was in a rush, so I kept it short, and of course, respectful. He was gracious. Later downstairs I would run into Jonas again, and our exchange was again short, a polite nod and smile, and a bid of thanks.
That was what I needed. Just that moment of recognition. To him, I was no longer completely nameless or faceless, and neither was he, to me. It is this humble connection I hope to receive from other photographers. From those whose years of photographing places and people have bridged their distance from their subjects and instilled in them a particular attachment and sensitivity to humanity that the lens introduces in a most unique way. My hope is that, in the midst of my own creative process, of my subjects and of my stories, in the midst of it all…ultimately, it is a relationship that begins, and remains.
Living in New York City sure has its perks. The Aperture Gallery is two train rides away. And I may not even know when a Magnum photographer might be snapping away beside me. There are too many of them to know, after all. Surely, I wouldn’t mind the next chance encounter with an artist of Jonas’ caliber, or Jonas himself, if he’s around, for that matter. But regardless of whether or not my future remains in this city, there was an energy that surged in that room, bottled in between those moments of mingling and frenzy, and somehow quietly, it seeped into me. And I hope it never leaves.
The Aperture Gallery is located at 547 West 27th Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10001. It is generally open Monday to Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Visit http://www.aperture.org/gallery/ for further details.