The film Smoke centres on everyday mysteries and on the friendship between Paul Benjamin, a novelist with writer’s block, and Auggie Wren, the manager of a Brooklyn cigarette shop. One day Paul is surprised to discover that Auggie doesn’t just sell cigarettes. He also has a vocation. He takes photographs. More specifically, he has taken a series of four thousand pictures, each of them shot at the same time of day and of the same place: the corner of Third Street and Seventh Avenue, where his shop stands. He cannot explain why he does this. “It just came to me”, he says. “It’s my corner, after all. It’s just one little part of the world, but things happen there, too, just like everywhere else. It’s a record of my little spot.”
Leafing through the albums that contain Auggie’s project, Paul is at once unengaged and overwhelmed. He wants to make some intellectual observation on the photos, but, frustrated, he finally blurts out the obvious: “But they’re all the same.”
Auggie replies, unfazed, that Paul will never understand if he doesn’t slow down. He is not even looking at the pictures. “They’re all the same”, he agrees, “but each one is different from every other one. You’ve got your bright mornings and your dark mornings. You’ve got your summer light and your autumn light. You’ve got your weekdays and your weekends. You’ve got your people in overcoats and galoshes, and you’ve got your people in shorts and T-shirts. Sometimes the same people, sometimes different ones. And sometimes the different ones become the same, and the same ones disappear. The earth revolves around the sun, and every day the light from the sun hits the earth at a different angle.”
Wanting to better appreciate my place and life, I have this year taken up an adaptation of Auggie’s devotional practice. I am every day taking photos of my garden. It is a small garden, in inner city Newtown, in Sydney, but everything happens here too. I want to know what I see that I usually don’t bother to witness; I want to keep a record of my little spot.
I am just learning to take photographs, so I cannot promise beautiful photos. But I will every day offer a photo of the beauty that has surprised and delighted me. Today this grasshopper jumped out at me, even though it didn’t move a muscle.