Last evening my granddaughter showed me a collection of photographs she’d taken. I was blown away. As we scrolled through her various collections of trees, marshes, water, and ocean sunrises, she’d often comment, ‘this one’s no good. It’s blurry,’ or “the light’s not right in this one. It almost hides that tree” or “this didn’t turn out the way I wanted.” to which I’d say, “zoom on this corner of the photo. Look how the light that blurs the tree highlights the moss growing at its base. Crop your picture to capture the different colors and textures of the moss and you’ve got a winner. After all, that’s what the professionals do. They often discard 9/10ths of a picture just to focus on a single bird.”
What she’s coming to discover is that photography is like everything in life. It’s all about perception and perspective. Our lives are defined by our perception about what goes on around us and our perspective, the way we understand what we see and experience. In fact, it is impossible to focus on everything at once. Our understanding is limited by where we are, whom we are with, the sounds we hear and the emotions we feel. When I go for my walks I miss most of what is around me because a single flower will catch my eye but in doing so I miss the elegant grasses growing a foot away. When I focus on a stand of trees I am unaware of the tiny veins running through the trees’ leaves. When I drink in the vista of mountains framed by a cornfield in the foreground, I miss the barn and tree off to one side. When I am talking to a friend, I become oblivious to what is happening around me.
Perception is reality, my husband liked to say. The extent of our education, work experiences, family heritage, opportunities to travel, the friends we choose, the church we attend, or don’t attend, all helps shape, not just our perspective, but our perception of things. While zooming in on one small area of our granddaughter’s photographs may create an amazing work of art, it also prevents us from seeing the larger setting in which the moss grew. Aside from the pictures we see and what astronomers tell us, all we know about the vast universes within universes in which we live on our small corner of this planet we call Earth.
Perception. Perspective. It all depends on what we choose to see and how open we are to expanding or reducing our vision. It’s a bit like Gustave Flaubert who said about his writing. “ I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it.” or John Coltrane when asked to describe his style of jazz, “I start in the middle and move in both directions at once.” And then there is Leo Buscaglis’ “A single rose can be my garden – a single friend my world.”