On Perspective

They say perspective is everything.

Perspective is funny that way, though. One of the functions of the artist is to draw lines between visible things, through invisible things. But the moment two points are visible, there lies perspective.

In poetry, I describe it as a sort of map. Muse whispering the layout of an invisible place, which I describe to my reader. I move around the space, crouching and leaning back, picking up and replacing objects, looking, feeling, smelling for the details that make the scene make sense.

Like digging in a closet for that yoga mat or travel pillow you bought a few years ago, it usually helps to take a break and come back. To get a fresh perspective. I clear some details to keep my reader undistracted, as I now lead them through that space. More than 20 years in, I’ve come to love that groping in the dark. The things you find in there are wild.

In photography, the invisible works another way.

Perspective is a literal, almost tangible thing. And an abstract, illusive thing. Both. When you approach a photograph from another perspective, you literally crouch, or lean in, or lean back, or twist. Or consider where the light will lead the eye, to tell the story. Or research your subject and consider the historical, socioeconomic meanings of this thing in the frame, or that. Any or all of these.

Photography seems much more forgiving of focusing on form and than poetry. At least, that’s true of the kinds of photography and poetry that speak to me. (And that’s perspective.)

As an artist, you’re the first reader, the first viewer. You have to see the frame around the thing, and the thing in the frame, and how they talk to each other—while you’re very much inside it. And then you have to explain that to others, who don’t necessarily see things and frames like you do, by drawing lines between them. You have to act as shaman.

For a while there, I was feeling down, real down.

There were reasons for this, but that’s for another blog.

It was hard finding a line out of that feeling, a line that connected me to the person I was before that feeling, and would be after. It was hard finding the frame, much less the thing. Hard finding my perspective.

Photographically, some of that was concrete. For walking around, I love my 50mm lens above all others. 50mm is damn close* to the magnification of the human eye. In other words, you put the camera to your face, and what you see is close to what you saw before you put the camera there. There are other interesting, limiting qualities of 50mm, too, but they’re not my point. I limited my perspective to what I saw, normally. And what I saw was kinda bleak.

Naming is maybe the essential act of focus.

And naming oneself is maybe the essential act of perspective. Naming this feeling, this trouble finding the lines that trace from and to my point of view… When I looked over the last several weeks’ work, it turned out, that was the thing. And writing about it here, this was the frame.


*Technically, it’s closer to 45mm, on a full-frame camera.

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