My late mother in law had an apartment on Central Park West and on her coffee table was a copy of Ruth Orkin’s book “A World Through My Window” 30 years of panoramic photographs taken from the vantage point of Ruth’s apartment window somewhere near my mother in law’s and at the same height too. Page after page the view was the same and yet entirely different as Ruth reflected life’s remarkable and unremarkable moments through its dependable seasons: parades, picnics, rallies: people and nature unknowingly arranged beneath her window, its own picture frame to her camera’s. Buildings pushed through the skyline over the years making it more crowded; children captured in earlier pages were surely parents by the later pages.
You could almost touch the sadness from the crowd gathered in Strawberry Fields after John Lennon died. Ruth seemed to link you in to what was immediately necessary and human. Her photos of winter made the white feel magical and I tried to remember her fairy tale take of its coated trees as I hustled through its stark February paths in the chilled air as a way to warm myself. From Ruth’s window, everything had a perspective: it was neutral enough not to be judgmental yet it only existed because Ruth committed to capturing it day in and day out.
She opened her window and focused her lens and trusted that someone would appreciate her vantage point. Sometimes, I would walk down the sidewalk along the park and I’d imagine she’d be above me, pointing her lens down, capturing the collective moment I happened to be a part of. It made me feel less alone, knowing she might be up there. She needed me to be a participant as much as I needed her to document. The everyday ordinariness in life can only become extraordinary when someone takes the time to trust its unfolding. I wanted to look up in case she was there. But I didn’t want to ruin the shot.