2005— International Winner

Gabrielle Piens, Paris, France

Truth or Beauty? What is more important in your life?

The absolute power of beauty and its ability to sustain a person through arduous periods can be illustrated in the way my father withstood the stress of my premature birth. For every day I lived during the few months I spent in the neonatal intensive care unit, he folded an origami paper crane. My father used the beauty of small paper objects as a coping mechanism. On the day I cam home my parents walked me into my nursery, and in the center of the room over a hundred multicolored paper cranes cascaded from a white pan lamp. The beauty of those cranes reflected more than beautiful ornamentation: it reflected the miracle of my survival.

I find beauty to be essential to my own existence, whether in times of deep dismay or more often during daily disquietude. From the time I was eleven, I have been collecting snapshots and sound bytes of moments in my life. I marvel at ordinary phenomena, in order to make my mundane moments bearable. Moments when I feel I must have made the same careless mistake thousands of times, or have turned the same street corner for ten years now, and nothing possibly could have improved or even changed in the slightest way. I am grateful when I'm able to momentarily wrestle with time, and for a few precious moments to stop, look, and listen.

In those few moments I notice tiny details blow up to a magnificent scale: a shaft of blindingly bright sunlight; the warm slow spreading glow of a genuine, heartfelt smile; the hushed energy of intense concentration in a test-afflicted classroom; a snarl of stripped branches suffused with pale morning light; how even on the drabbest grey days a dramatic light spills over the sky, casting a new vibrancy to everything it hits below; the slow grinding creak of a door closing and subsequent rarified silence in unusually calm school stairwells. In those moments I realize that I'm truly alive and aware, that these moments are unique, and will never again unfold in that exact same sequence. The moment something sharply focused and objective dissolves into subjective softness, those are the moments I try to capture. These revelations are intricately woven into my life and appear serendipitously, filling me with endless gratitude.

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