My childhood dream was to be an architect. When I was little, I loved math and drawing, and for who-knows-what reason, adolescent-me was wooed by sharp angles and repeating rows of windows -- the siren song of post-modern minimalism.
Truth be told, four years into my legal adulthood, not much has changed. Just the other day, curving around the perimeter of Paris on my night commute home from Saint-Cloud, the glow of high-rise office buildings was enough to set my heart aflutter.
Any time I find myself in a grand ol’ sky-scraping downtown area, it sparks flashes of theoretical lives -- could be as simple as a particular desk lamp, a stack of books, the way the shutters are drawn. I know I'm not alone in this feeling -- not only because of the established understanding that I'm not unique, but from conversations with people who have said they’ve wondered the same thing, passing by homes and stores and other various and sundry workplaces.
As a whole, I think the light emanating out of these buildings is so enchanting because of its inherent message: You aren't alone. There are others, just within eyeshot, who are sharing this same night with you. You've never met a lot of them, but they're here too.
So, whether it’s an industrial complex, or a suburban neighbourhood, a biting comment scrawled onto an ad on the metro, or a dog patiently awaiting its owner outside a store, my underlying ‘goal’ is to communicate what those houses communicated to Little Me: brief bursts of insight into the lives of others. A comforting assurance that there’s a whole wide world out here, and people are texturing it with things like witty retorts to advertising and well-trained domestic animals.
I can’t speak much to the loneliness of small towns, but I know firsthand that, perhaps counterintuitively, living in a big city can be exceptionally isolating. Technically, you are constantly surrounded by millions of people in a hustling, bustling urban space, but there could be days where you see no one. Talk to no one.
I’ve had those days.
If my art accomplishes anything, anything at all, I can only hope it operates as a signal to others -- that we, band of internet-surfers, may not be together in the same physical space, but we are far from alone.
Autumn Palen is an American writer/photographer currently based in Paris.