A Dainty Phyletic
Annie Harpel on seeing herself in a surrealist image.
I wasn’t looking to buy art when I walked into a gallery in Cambria. The offerings were many, from plein air to contemporary. I wandered through a hallway, and there she was. A woman staring out into the aura of quiet resignation. A storm cloud hovered over her head, rain pouring down. Hair in a loose bun, tendrils dripped around her face. She wore white gloves and a white ruffled lace short-sleeve blouse tucked into her skirt, which was an umbrella. She stood as if floating, in a turbulent sea. Alone. Speechless, I cried.
In this surrealist monotone photograph by digital mixed media artist Jaime Baldridge, was a woman who reminded me of every struggle, failed relationship, and pity party I threw myself for not living up to the expectations of others, including my own. Yet in all the gloom, light from an unknown source streamed onto her blouse and gloves. The gallery owner graciously allowed me to put the artwork on layaway.
While making payments, I imagined which wall to hang her on. Where I could see her every day, reminding me of the irony of life. How what is designed to protect us from the storms can also be what keeps us afloat. I have always carried a sadness in my soul, which became the source of writing poetry filled with words of hope and encouragement. Even though her face expresses no emotion, I can feel the arc of her life, and not help but wonder, where will she go from here?
I paid the balance off quickly and took her home. She is on the wall above my desk, inspiring my poems and stories. She reminds me even in dark days, like during this pandemic, to keep looking outward.
Annie Harpel is a poet, essayist, poetry teacher, fine art photographer, and artist.
Jamie Baldridge (1975-) is an American photographer who specializes in surrealism. He is an arts educator at University of Louisiana at Lafayette.