I uncovered this photograph yesterday, and it struck me instantly as beautiful. I find myself intensely drawn in by the composition. I love how laundry, something so small, so quotidian, and so domestic, finds itself transformed into an ethereal, abstract, gestural drawing through Berenice Abbott’s eye.
The rough architecture and harsh connotation of the tenement buildings are softened by the gentle geometry of the white fabric. Shirts, intimates and delicates hang in rows, peaceful as Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags. They drape themselves affectionately across the hard brick structures, reminding their inhabitants to see beauty in unlikely moments and places. The swatches of cotton and linen echo the shape of the windows, setting them free in the breeze and movement of fresh air. The whimsical criss-crossing diagonals of the clotheslines reinvent the once grid-like space, inviting our eyes to dance, explore and play.
Abbott’s photograph speaks to the idea of living in the moment, and of reveling in the beauty of life’s details. These meditative, joyful practices are always important for human happiness, especially during darker times. I found it fitting that this image dates to 1936, the last time this country endured the physical and psychological difficulties of a recession. Today, this photograph embodies a quietly coaxing reminder to notice beautiful things around us, however tiny they may seem. Let the details guide you passionately through every breath.