Postcard Beauty

“Wish I could be there. Wish I could see that.”

The thoughts which crossed my mind while staring at a breath-taking photograph printed on cardstock. The thoughts never faded. My imagination thrived in creating a world where I would travel to every country and see beauty at its finest. In the year of 2010, my dream began to unfold into a reality.

 

 

My name is Loren Gambrell. I’m 24 years old, and I’m here to attempt a painting with words that will hopefully show you how beautiful the world outside your window is. My hope -- You realize true beauty is incomparable to your expectation of it.

 

In high school, I was given the opportunity to travel to Brasil. (And yes, I know I spelt it “wrong,” but that’s how they spell it over there.) In college, I took the opportunity to travel to Canada. Shortly after graduation, I applied to travel worldwide. I’ve now traveled to over 13 countries and through many more. Please don’t misunderstand me. The United States has its own share of beauty, but in the same breathe, please accept the fact that beauty is different than our culture defines here in freedom country.

 

“BEAUTY:  the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.”

 

This is the definition of “beauty” by the famous Merriam-Webster. Can I ask you something? What is it in the postcard or photograph that triggers that word? Is it the sun rays bouncing off the snow-capped mountain range? Or maybe it’s the crystal, turquoise waters crashing onto a sandy, white beach? What about a photograph of a southeastern asian market? Would the word “beauty” pop into your mind then? Or how about a photograph of starving children kicking around a football? (Yes, I said kicking. Their footballs are our soccer balls.)

 

I could provide you with more examples, but you’re probably already thinking things like, “Making a postcard of a market? Okay maybe, but of starving children playing? Is she serious?!” The answer -- yes, quite. Remember my hope for you in the beginning? Start applying yourself towards it.

 

Most of us with a wanderlust spirit have stood among mountain peaks or witnessed water-colored skies whilst reclining on gritty grains. You may call it Mother Nature’s finest, but I believe it to be God’s unfathomable, artistic ability. And it’s beautiful. It holds much beauty. So much so, it causes us to stop and gaze for minutes on end with our mind inside of an awe moment we couldn’t capture with a lens though many of us have tried. Thus, Merriam-Webster defines beauty well in this aspect by placing the word “pleasure” in the definition. It brings much pleasure to see such magnificence.

 

But imagine with me for a minute the market in Southeastern Asia. For those of us who may have never been there, let me set the scene. It’s morning, and it’s hot. Really hot. Not like summers for the stateside northerners when temps hit 90’s and not like summers for the stateside southerners when temps hit 110. (Mid-west and West coast, I’m not sure what the weather is like over there.) Regardless, when I mention it was hot, imagine inescapable, desert-sun, equator-line, hot. Okay, so now that you can feel the temperature, let’s tend to your other senses. All you hear is an asian language being exchanged between everyone, but especially between people who notice you - the American. The sight consists of hanging meats: sausages and t-bones covered with flies; basketed fruits and veggies: apples, peppers, potatoes along with some you’ve never seen nor heard of; uniced fish and seafood: lake fish and small shrimps. All the while you walk down a very narrow path in which locals sit elbow-to-elbow lining on either side. All you smell is the remnants of the slaughtered, the blood trickling between your feet down through the path, and the stench of uniced fish.

 

Congratulations on now having a slight idea of what it’s like to walk the outdoor markets of Southeastern Asia. At this point, let me ask you, “Does the word ‘beauty’ come to your mind when picturing a southeastern asian market?” Probably not huh? What if I told you I left something out of the details? Something you can’t see with your eyes, smell with your nose, or hear with your ears in that moment when you’re looking at that postcard or photograph.

 

These women and men selling their goods in the markets are living off what they raise, garden, or fish for. They have families miles off in which they return home to by foot or bike nightly to cook for (on a good day.) These people have a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, lifelong routine that is unbreakable due to their need for survival. So many turn noses up and look for the closest “western” store. I was one of those. Until I heard some of their stories and saw some of their homes. All my stomach longed for was American food, until I sat down with a local and ate a meal in which I had no clue of its contents and was sure it’d make me sick. The beauty was never the market itself. It was interesting, but not beautiful. The beauty was in the people’s stories. The people’s generosity. Two things you can’t see but yet still put you inside a moment of awe.

 

Are you starting to gain some insight? Wanting to stop reading in order to still be able to deny that your expectations of beauty are shallow only due to the ignorance of its full resolution? Let’s go through one more example. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Oh no...not the starving kids.” Why yes, I’m going to share with you the beauty of starving children.

 

So clear your mind of the market. Now, again, it’s hot. (Remember how I described hot.) You and your team of adventurers are wandering down a dirt road in Africa. Your Chaos don’t shield your feet from much of the dirt that is now building up to be a pretty good sunblock. The clothes on your back are working as a sponge soaking in all the sweat your body is exuding. All you want is some shade and a cold Coke-a-Cola. While walking this dirt path, you stumble upon a small, remote village. The homes are made from mud bricks and thatch. You see old women topless with a long skirt sweeping out their home’s dirt floor with a broom made of a branch, some thatch, and a string. The only men around are elderly and all bunched together chatting about things only a fluent translator could understand. Then you see the kids - skin and bones - kicking a football. They are laughing and screaming while playing with some killer skills. In one moment’s notice, the men and women’s attention turns onto you all. In another, the kids start running in your direction. The football game is now on hold, and you all are their main concern. They’ve never seen white skin or blue eyes. Some of us have red hair. They don’t speak your language, but they don’t mind speaking to you in theirs. Before long, you have a kid on your back, three or four holding your hand, and several more crowded around just you. Now multiply that by the number of those you’re traveling with, and you’ll get a scene. It doesn’t take long before they all want the foreigners to play in their game of football with them. They grab your hands and arms and drag you to the flat, dirt field with no lines as boundaries and short shrubs as goal markers. Some of you play, others of you cheer over to the side whilst kids sit in your lap and braid your hair. (Forewarning, the braid won’t be easy to get out!) When the game is over, they’ll beg you not to leave...And you’ll cry as you do.

 

The beauty of starving children isn’t in the category we subject them to: starving. It’s in the love that they share. If you know the awe moment of a mountain peak, great. But it’s nothing like an awe moment of being on a football team of starving, african kids. By miraculously showing up and spending time with them, you’ve made their day, maybe even their year. By playing football with starving kids, because that’s all you can give, part of your day has been stamped into an unforgettable moment of a lifetime.

 

I’m a photographer. And my following thoughts to “Wish I could be there. Wish I could see that,” are “I could never capture all forms of beauty.” I’ve tried. The pictures of the market are quite well-angled and well-lit. Yet people’s minds go straight to the emotion in relation to the poverty they see in the photograph. The pictures of the football game with the kids came out wonderful. But people who see them only feel sadness or sympathy for kids in such a world. I’ve got photographs of beautiful mountain tops and breath-taking beaches. But if someone were to ask me which photographs I believe are the most beautiful, without hesitation, I’d answer, “The Storytelling Market and Starving for Football.”


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes. But, if you ask me, beauty is more so tucked away inside the heart of a traveler.

-Loren Gambrell