Photography is as much about what we include in the frame as about what we leave out of it.
I think the point applies to much more than photography.
What we call focus is not only about the thing we focus on. Monomaniacs are very focused persons but they’re dysfunctional. What they lack is the capacity to change focus and decide what they need to leave out of their mental frame.
It’s not so much the ability to keep our attention on a subject that differentiates us. It’s the capacity to choose our focus, shift our focus and choose what to ignore. This involves self questioning, self restraint, and the ability to differentiate between what’s relevant and what’s not.
There’s a whole world out there and we are looking at it through a tiny mental viewfinder. This is our in-built limitation, but it’s also a gift.
At the end of the day, for anything we set out to do, the clarity of our focus will largely depend on what we decide to keep out of the frame.
A morning walk in the forest. The fresh snow fallen during the night simplifies and clarifies what would otherwise be a busy, grey landscape.
I stopped in this small clearing. Everything is silent. The rusty leaves of last summer are still hanging on, like a nostalgic tune. The background retains some of the mist and snow dust of early morning.
There are visible doors that remain closed forever. And there are invisible doors that become visible only when they close.
Once upon a time, a man from the countryside wanted to get access, through a guarded door, to law (or justice). However, every time he tried to get in, the doorkeeper told him he cannot let him in just yet. The man was being told that getting access to law was possible. Months passed, then years, but the door remained closed.
The man started bribing the doorkeeper and he spent everything he had just to be able to return to the gate with an ever higher bribe. The man got old. Just before dying, he asked the doorkeeper why he never saw anybody else trying to enter through that door, since all people seem to be seeking the law. The doorkeeper replied:
“No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it.”
There’s something haunting about this story, first published by Franz Kafka in 1915 and then included in his novel “The Trial”. And even if you can’t quite put your finger on it, you recognize and react instinctively to its strangeness.
It’s as if looking inside a deep, endless well. As if looking inside yourself.
It reminded me of a Romanian folk tale I’ve mentioned a few weeks ago. The tale starts like many other tales, with a hero embarking on a personal quest. In this case, the hero sets out to find immortality. But as the story advances, things turn dark and unpredictable. Although the hero emerges victorious from all the fights and traps he finds along the way, he does not find what he’s looking for. When he returns home, he finds Death itself waiting for him. But it’s not the Grim Reaper of everybody and nobody in particular. It is his own Death, waiting just for him.
Like any good story, Kafka’s parable is open to interpretations. Is it about justice, state authority, the crushing power of impersonal rules? Yes, but not only. Is it about alienation? Yes, but not only. The story is richer than any particular interpretation or moral message you could draw from it.
Maybe that’s what stories do. They speak about doors – about change, transformation, passage to something different. But they are not necessarily meant to help you open that door, only to make you realize it’s your door.
After so much rain, the forest is a giant sponge. My footsteps quickly fill up with water behind me. Millions of raindrops are suspended on the smallest, finest tree branches. The air is electric and thick with humidity. All the colors are saturated.
It hasn’t stopped raining since forever. The sky is one giant cloud. I can barely distinguish nuances of gray. I can barely recall the last time I saw the sun.
I am high from all the color, the fresh air and the climb up here. The forest is alive.
There is an imperceptible movement somewhere, the water molecules are rolling downstream in slow motion. But to the naked eye everything seems frozen.
It’s early autumn and the first colorful leaves are slowly gathering on the water. The Great Falling of Leaves has not started yet.
I’ve stopped for a minute to have a drink of water and watch the sun playing its hide-and-seek through the branches.
It’s cool down here. It’s a good place to rest and stay silent.
Panta rhei said a Greek named Heraclitus about 2500 years ago. Everything is in flow.
There are hundreds of books, articles, movies, plays and paintings building on these two words. Panta rhei. You cannot step in the same river twice. Everything changes constantly.
Right here, although there is a small waterfall upstream, the silence and stillness are overwhelming. The water rushes down the waterfall and all of a sudden calms down as it zigzags between the rocks.
I’m sitting there and the stream is still on the outside but is moving through me. And it carries with it all the sorrow, clarity, regret, realisation, depression and hope of the recent past, like leaves on the water.