The shrine-capturer of Somerville, MA: On the art of noticing your neighborhood

I only started noticing the shrines of Somerville, MA after my portrait session photographing visual artist Cathy P.

I mean, I guess after moving to MA in September I did notice them. They were something different in the landscape of this place, but at that time everything was new; smells, colors, and yes, the things people displayed in their yards as I walked by.

Cathy and her husband Michael greeted me at the door on a Friday night. We had scheduled a solo portrait session for her new feature for the Somerville Arts Council. Because the nature of her work is primarily outdoors, I decided the two of us should go for a photo-walk and embrace some natural sunlight as it was setting. We left her home and began the journey.

Within the first five minutes of our walk Cathy let out a soft shriek and exclaimed,

“THIS! Wow. I’ve never seen this one!”

I looked to see what she was talking about, and it was a shrine. Behind a white picket fence tucked up next to the front of a neighbor’s house was a Religious shrine featuring the biblical Mary. Cathy already had her camera out, an iPhone, ready and hot in her hands. She took the posture and began to photograph. This was her artwork.

Excitement filled her, she had missed this one! She’s been mapping and photographing shrines for years now, using her iPhone to capture and Tumblr to display. She’s played with creating maps, and mentioned the possibility of leading Shrine tours in the future. I embraced the creative interruption during the photoshoot, documenting her as she worked.

All gardening is landscape painting
— Alexander Pope.

We then headed to her urban garden. It didn’t surprise me that she is an avid gardener, having a knack for noticing things and that knack usually ties into gardening. I enjoy plants as well, listening to them and understanding which needs require attention. As we walked she plucked a bouquet for me which I tenderly referred to as “burrito bouquet” because she wrapped it in tinfoil, resembling a delicious fast-food burrito.

Her art reminds us of the human connection to noticing the small things in our environment. As the internet plows through our visual capacities we need to remember the most important places are usually right in front of us. Cathy found that and is inspiring all of us. What is quietly begging for your attention? Go out and find it!

It was a lovely experience and you should check out more of her interview here, as she is the Somerville Art Council’s artist of the month for July.

You can view the entire project here:, follow the adventures on Facebook here and watch a short documentary here.  

Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination, a part of the imagination that has not yet been plowed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use…time spent there is not work time, yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated. The fight for free space — for wilderness and public space — must be accompanied by a fight for free time to spend wandering in that space.
— Rebecca Solnit