The Empty Space Between Us

Lady By Windows

Not everyone enjoys empty spaces. I’m referring to those empty rooms where maybe a sole couch sits, or a sole print on the wall. Sort of a Japanese Zen kind of room, devoid from visual distractions, but perhaps with a single object in it to demand your total, and uncluttered attention. It is really incredible how the Japanese have turned the absence of something into a thing of beauty. If only we could do that in this part of the world, where people cannot have enough stuff to cram into whatever space they have. Kind of what we do with our time, where society feels compelled to fill every minute of it with some activity, like checking a cell phone for that constant stream of those “insignificant little nothings.”

But when we search for creativity, empty spaces do seem to take an importance out of proportion from their normal selves. Perhaps it has to do with the visual isolation they allow, or perhaps with the fact that the less taxing our visual reaction is, the more our minds can wonder and compose. Whatever the case, it is in that desolate, empty distance separating feelings from the subject of our attention, where I find the glorious sustenance that feeds my imagination. That gap, that clear path where nothing lives and where obstacles don’t exist, is precisely where inspiration dwells. Nothing stands in the way of our eyes, thoughts, and admiration. It is glorious emptiness, where unable to be seen by the naked eye, incredible amounts of energy bounces back-and-forth without obstacles between the admirer and the admired.

In his meditative book, “The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down,” Buddhist Monk Haemin Sunim eloquently identifies this zone where nothing, and everything dwell in perfect harmony:

What makes music beautiful is the distance between one note and another. What makes speech eloquent is the appropriate pause between words. From time to time we should take a breath and notice the silence between sounds.

The absence of notes and words makes “noticing” possible, just as the absence of obstructing things make beauty noticeable. A pause in a conversation. The expectation of the next note. A lone painting on a wall. And the empty space between us. I couldn’t help but notice.

It’s All About The Composition

Large columns provide perfect protection from the large crowds at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Over the years I have grown convinced that the magic of photography has more to do with perspective and composition than with pixel perfection.  Of course, you wouldn’t know this from the thousands of photo blogs on the Internet that dedicate most of their real estate to elaborate technical discussions of sharpness charts, extreme high ISO grain differences, and shutter burst speeds.  Not that talking about any of this is a bad thing, or that such considerations are irrelevant to good photography.  However, the point is that for the consumer (and we are all consumers), what makes a good photo is not its technical perfection, but rather the feelings that it evokes.  That is why we still like grainy street photography so much, or why we can’t stop looking at the human condition as captured by photojournalists all around the world.  For the general public to enjoy what they see on a photograph, they must connect with the photo in some very personal way.  Solitude.  Loneliness.  Pity.  Anger.  Disgust.  Happiness.  Love.  Surprise.  You name it, but it has to be there.  It is the reaction that comes from observing what is happening within that “human stage” depicted on the photo, rather than the photo’s technical perfection, that will determine the value of the photograph for the consumer.  So, less worrying about perfection and more worrying about great composition is a great start to producing great photographs.