Eileen Ko: Beauty in the Ordinary

Photo: Eileen Ko


Photography and Text by Eileen Ko, Copyright 2018


Book Review


Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski


Beauty in the Ordinary


John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs is a simple picture book. He selected pictures from the The Museum of Modern Art’s photography collection and wrote brief, eloquent essays about the history and background of each picture, adding to the richness of my appreciation of it. The book is a visually impressive album, a treasury of noteworthy photographs and a lively introduction to the aesthetics and historical development of photography. As I grew up, I perceived photography as a medium to document my environment and the world. However, Szarkowski defines photography as a form of expression “as potent and meaningful as any work of art” like drawings and paintings, for example. His definition inspired me to observe and notice more beauty and value in my surroundings, even in ones that seem mundane.

A photographer featured in the book named Arnold Genthe was a master of street photography. He took pictures of places whether they would be famous avenues, commonplace streets, etc. He worked secretly, without attracting the attention of his subjects and captured the fleeting intersection of time in Street of the Gamblers. This photograph encouraged me to do the same so I went out to probably the most famous path on Penn’s campus- Locust Walk. Locust Walk, in my definition, is the most mundane and ordinary location on campus because countless students walk through it every day without giving much thought about it. I, too, stride through Locust Walk multiple times a day but I never took the time to observe and admire its surroundings. When I finally took the time to relax and stroll through Locust Walk, I began to find myself admiring the familiar things I see every day. I found things that I would normally call mundane to be the most entertaining at that moment- people walking by expressing various emotions on their faces, students that come from diverse backgrounds, peculiar interactions that occur, animals that aimlessly wander about, Christmas lights that dimly illuminate the walk in the dark, and so on. I desired to search for and capture the beauty in the ordinary Locust Walk.

The development of photography over the years has affected our knowledge and opinions about the structure and meaning of visual experience. It is widely agreed that you need the best camera equipment and lengthy training to capture the most remarkable images. Although these factors are necessary to a degree, we sometimes forget how wondrous and intriguing our everyday life is. If we only change our perspective, we can find beauty and worth in the most seemingly mundane things and often create something splendid in places we never expected to.


About The Author: Eileen Ko is a Nursing student in her junior year at the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2019. To access additional articles by Eileen Ko, click herehttps://tonywardstudio.com/blog/eileen-ko-companions/


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