The Power of Contemplation

"He sat watching what went forward with the quiet outward glance of healthy old age" ... George Eliot
“He sat watching what went forward with the quiet outward glance of healthy old age” … George Eliot

Very few things fascinate me as much as when I observe a stranger in a state of utter contemplation. Can’t quite say why, but I assume it has to do with what such scenes do to the power of the imagination. Contemplation is perhaps the ultimate form of freedom, as it gives birth to who we truly are, stripped from the the cacophony of sounds that demand so much of our senses, but deliver so little to out souls. Of course, many would argue that such musings are nothing but signs of mental illness on the part of photo blogger, but I have to believe that there’s something to it. When we loose ourselves into ourselves, something transformative seems to happen. We connect dots, we make sense of us, and above all, we come to know the self in ways that are so deeply personal that it is impossible for others to see. That is precisely what this simple scene along the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris reminded me of. Silence, contemplation, and a journey that only eyes that had seen so much more than mine, could see. No doubt that scenes like these led Percy Bysshe Shelley, the famous British romantic poet from the early 19th Century, to perfectly capture the deep feelings generated by such moments:

 

There is eloquence in the tongueless wind, and a melody in the flowing brooks and the rustling of the reeds beside them, which by their inconceivable relation to something within the soul, awaken the spirits to a dance of breathless rapture, and bring tears of mysterious tenderness to the eyes, like the enthusiasm of patriotic success, or the voice of one beloved singing to you alone.

 

But why do we allow so very few of these moments in our lives? Fear of what we may discover? Or could it be that they would require us to give less to others as we pursue more of ourselves? I’m sure that there are as many explanations are there are pebbles on a beach. Such a pity, for I’m sure we could all benefit from heeding Shelly’s wise advice to “… awaken the spirits to a dance of breathless rapture…”

 

Are People Necessary For Good Urban Photography?

While I prefer to photograph people in urban environments, sometimes the emptiness of a scene is what makes the photograph.
While I prefer to photograph people in urban environments, sometimes the emptiness of a scene is what makes the photograph.
I often wonder whether we like seeing people in photographs because they enhance our ability to relate to the scene.
I often wonder whether we like seeing people in photographs because they enhance our ability to relate to the scene.

I have to admit that just about every time I go out with my cameras in any city, it is people scenes that I am after.  I think this is probably true of just about every street photographer out there, and even when I do not consider myself a street photographer in the strictest sense of the term, I can totally sympathize with the impact (or sense of wonderment) that people bring to a photograph.  What can I say?  It’s all pretty much a matter of personal preference, and personal means that everyone will have a slightly different opinion about this.

Having said that, I do think that people add an additional dimension to our interpretation of a photograph.  If anything, they make these photographs a bit less flat, less three-dimensional in our heads.  Human nature also makes us identify with people in photographs.  If they are looking in a particular direction, so do we.  We feel the weight of anything they carry, the sadness in their expressions, and the love in their eyes.  Their emotions, real or imagined, become our emotions.  We try to see through their eyes, to relive the scene as we imagine they lived it when the photograph was taken.  It becomes personal in a way that an empty scene will have a hard time emulating.  It is the magic of the still photograph and the reason why so many of us love this art form.