Friday, February 18, 2011

The Big Picture and the Art of Focus


 Study in Contrast

I’ve written in this space about perspective, how it seems that as the years go by, and the good and bad experiences accumulate, I have become better able to put them into context, see patterns, predict trends, like a scientist conducting a longterm study in which no real conclusions can be drawn until all the evidence is in, and therefore all results are valid, be they positive or negative.  Most of all I’ve learned that whatever the variables, the one true constant is my own attempt to gather and examine the data, my own desire to learn, understand, and through that understanding, continue to grow. This is perhaps a Westerner’s best approximation of the Eastern philosophy of seeing life as all one, a continuum, in which there is no good or bad, beginning or end, only what is, and that there is always something greater than whatever or whoever it is you are struggling with at the moment. To struggle is good. To struggle means you are aware and alive. But one particular struggle should never be allowed to become so large that it overshadows the general vitality and meaning of who you are and what you are here to accomplish.

Openings

It was not always so. I think back on my melodramatic youth, in which the end of the world was imminent in repeated awful circumstances that I seemed to attract like bees to honey. I did then and do now feel things deeply. I was born without the capacity for denial or avoidance or restraint, a condition that should have diminished with each misfortune I survived, but instead only seemed to increase. As a child, I was always attuned to every vibration around me, for good and bad, and even sometimes felt other people’s joy and grief more than they did, it seemed, wondering how they could throw up walls against, filter or create compartments for the overwhelming things that roamed freely and wildly within me, even at secondhand. I was told I would grow numb with age and experience. But once I began to encounter my own endless series of thrills and ills in the world, often considering my heightened sensitivity the sooner the better extinguished, I found that instead, it thrived.

 Crossed Wires

For a long time I didn’t want to be me. Not only because I didn’t fit in, but because even if I removed myself from the world and stayed alone, it was still difficult and exhausting living life on what seemed a more intense frequency of awareness, high and low. This is not a post about manic depression. With all due respect to the bipolar, I wish it were that simple a diagnosis. They haven’t invented a name yet for what ails me.  My mind is hopelessly open and tangled. I am always available to and overrun by every possible intellectual vantage point of a situation and every unique psychological landscape of the people I engage with.  And yet I have somehow become able to cope with the chaos, the way anyone who works with fiber learns early on that large heaps of yarn or thread will always get themselves into knots, in spite of your best efforts to keep them straight, so you had better learn how to disentangle them.  To continue the metaphor, the way to do this is to examine the tangle, identify the smaller tangles of which it is comprised, and slowly work through each one, until you have one long continuous line without having to cut or throw away one inch of it. You have to be able to hold in your mind, or hands, both the parts and the whole at the same time.

the little picture
 
This post is about the blessings of focus. I follow blogs here, some of which are all words, some of which are all images, some a combination of both. It always intrigues me how we choose to present ourselves, what it is we decide to offer publicly or privately. The question is not always whether or not to be honest, but which thing to be honest about, and how.  Much can be revealed not only in what one says, but how one says it, what subjects get highlighted and examined, visually or verbally. Even then, a year’s worth of extraordinarily forthright posts might not make up even a corner of the mosaic of one complex person’s inner world.  And I know that those things I don’t see represented, don’t cease to exist because they are not on view. I would hope that the most conscientious of us try to engage a similar focus every day of our lives, in all we do, not out of shame or deception, but a conscious choice to invest energy in and pay attention to our most positive aspects and pursuits. There is of course a negative side to this selection process, when the little picture presented, however accurate in and of itself, is part of a bigger contradictory picture that, if revealed, could cause harm to anyone who might be relying upon the former as the whole and only truth. I think many of us have had occasion to be on either or both the giving and receiving end of such a shock and found our relationship with Truth never the same again.

 The Whole Truth

For my part, in life, I would always rather see the big picture, the whole picture, however daunting or difficult. There is nothing more frightening to me than incomplete information.  If I have all the facts, I can decide what sense to make of them, where to place my focus, whereas if I am given only a select portion, there is always the chance of some other information coming to light that will render my conclusions meaningless.  As a photographer and a poet, to me there is no conflict in my mind between these two ways of seeing, wide and narrow.  I am all about taking a lot of compelling and often painful available material and stimuli and finding a way to distill it all down to a few small precise things that somehow convey the dizzying whole. This is not just a creative strategy, but a personal necessity.

 The Big Picture

I have always admired novelists and filmmakers their scope and range. The world they offer is the one I am living in always, in the world and in my mind, vast, complex and untidy. But there are times, even if I have examined and preserved and in a way absorbed into me all the messy heaps of original material, when I need to select and edit. Dozens of pages in a journal become a sonnet.  Photographs get cropped down to the one detail that makes sense or serves a specific purpose.  Focus can make a large thing small, or a small thing large. I have learned that one can see and feel everything, give it its full due, and then choose to make that cut that will bring something to light, and set something else aside, out of frame, or perhaps only saved to a file for later review.

The Art of Focus
 
For anyone who lives life fully and freely, it is always, and should be always TOO MUCH. Young and old, we all suffer from an impractical and dangerous ideal of simplicity and ease, and an unnecessary burden of guilt should we find being human or living life not to be a simple or easy thing. Ambiguities and ambivalences, moral, emotional, intellectual and behavioral, abound, along with incompatibilities, inconsistencies and outright contradictions. Life is not about absolutes of good or bad, right or wrong. It seems I will never be too old or wise to face another challenge to my already highly flexible and tentative grasp of where I and those I know and love fall on those or any other spectra. I read many confessions lately of loss of balance and direction, falling behind, not being able to do this or be that, and coming to terms with various public and private failings. I would offer that it is better to be a person beset by so much possibility they feel lost, fall short or screw up, than one without a doubt or care in the world, with nothing to do but kill time. So I would urge everyone out there feeling a little overwhelmed lately to embrace the big picture, however chaotic, and also practice the art of focus where necessary, wisely, and well.

Love your Vortex!

36 comments:

  1. I love your mindset. It resonates strongly with my own. And yes, I am a firm believer that I have to accept all of me - the good, the bad and the ugly before I can go anywhere. Somedays the negatives are strongest and while I try not to wallow in them, neither can I deny them. Thankyou.

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  2. EC - It really means a lot to me that this writing reaches you and resonates with you. I do try to affirm the positive, but it does require a full immersion in the negative - how else can you defeat the enemy, whatever it may be, except by knowing it? Especially when the body fails us, or outside circumstances defy us, all we have is our mindset to pull us through. I have every confidence that yours can prevail! All the best to you. And give a little head-scritch to those lovely devilish kitties of yours from me!

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  3. Gabriella. wonderful to read you! I have so many times "cropped" images to make them fit and so may other times I have just zoomed and zoomed to get get a better view. It is all part of the way I want to see things no matter what. Once again thank you for your wonderful words.

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  4. Ah, Luis - I had a feeling you would understand this dual way of seeing, whether it is applied to photography or life! Many thanks for your kind words, my friend.

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  5. When I see a picture the second time, I see it with different view and thoughts; that's because since then I have accumulated other experiences before looking at it the second time...
    My profession has always been a constant back and forth between big picture and focus, thank you for your words on how to see them in life.

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  6. I love the way you reveal yourself here. Your honesty and positive outlook are presented in such a unique,fresh way. I feel like you understand me, have heard me, even though we have never met. You have quite a gift.

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  7. Wong Ching Wah - thank you so much for your comment which adds immensely to the ideas I was considering! You are so right that even as no image can ever be absolute in its capture of reality or truth, every time the creator or another looks at again, it is further transformed by everything that lies behind that viewing! All the best to you.

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  8. Kass - it never ceases to amaze me when something I have pulled out of what I think to be my own unique experience and way of thinking and feeling finds a sympathetic soul. I'm humbled more than pleased to be able to offer such a gift. Thank you.

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  9. focus yes indeed. thanks for your post gabriella. accepting the good with the bad is life. we cannot only have the good. mess and kaos is the order of the day around here, there is always too many things going on. I like it that way.

    xt

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  10. Gabriella,
    We struggle every day for the truth but what I have found is that there are many truths about the same things and to encompass as many of them or be open to the possibilities that truth changes by the second is an important one. Like a camera angle or juxtapose words on a page they change when looked at more closely or from another angle.

    What we reveal to others is another thing. Do we want to look good on the cat walk or bare all in spite of the cat walk? If we feel safe enough, I suppose we might reveal, more hopefully with integrity of what we believe self to be. But doesn’t ego come to play here? What we choose to reveal and what the viewer, listener, reader chooses to absorb. The whole picture changes with every breath I believe. We cannot feel the living without the angst of death around us. Nor the joy of love or beauty without witnessing love lost and beauty withheld. It can be so very overwhelming to feel, to be so sensitive to ourselves and others. Sometimes there seems to be no choice but.

    This is a post to my heart. This constant curious and understanding of where one is, and where one is now, and now, and even now is so very exciting to me.

    robert

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  11. Heartfelt, this post! You touch so many strings. I wish i could see the big picture, most of the time i zoom in. My kids have learned me to focus, there's no other way with kids around.

    Dear Gabriella this post touches me deeply (as all your posts do) and tears in my eyes. I thank you so much for letting me see and feel and understand.... Your words comfort me.

    Enjoy the weekend sweet friend.

    Big hug and kisses! Monica

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  12. Wow - what a lot to read and think thru! I think its a great but challenging gift to see all sides of everything, to be hyper-aware of the world, of people and of possibilities. And an even greater gift to be abel to see within that, the essence of something, the detail, the fragment that is deserving of attention. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all that I see, imagine, anticipate - but if I chunk it it becomes less scary. Best wishes for a roller coaster ride thru life!

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  13. T - I'm glad you liked this post - and have made peace with the mess! All the best to you.

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  14. Robert - thanks for this insightful comment! Yes there are multiple truths, and selective truths, and of course all the layers that truth has to pass through when each person absorbs it, or the same person absorbs it under different circumstances. There really can be no certainty - except that apprehended by the heart. Be well, my friend.

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  15. Dear Monica - I am happy to know this post touched you! There were some tears in my eyes as I wrote it - Robert Frost once said "no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader" - have a good weekend!

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  16. Fiona - you have a great attitude! Yes, life is a rollercoaster isn't it? But better that than standing on the ground watching everyone else enjoy the ride! Be well.

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  17. I am once again in awe of the way you are able to capture the essence of the full, rich and complex life. Here's my very favorite moment in this post though...."focus can make a large thing small and a small thing large"....that's enough to keep you thinking for quite a while. Always a rich delight to read this blog!!! Thanks so much, G.

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  18. Patti - this means so much coming from you, no stranger to the complexities of the mind! I guess this post was an attempt to work through the negative aspects of hyperthought and find the benefits and advantages that make such a mentality valuable. I had previously never really made the connection between our personal choices of focus and the way photographers work with their images, or writers their texts. Just one more way of making sense of what can sometimes be such an overwhelming condition - life, that is! Thanks for your comment and have a great week!

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  19. G...you always have a way of making me think. That was a wonderful post. I love your line *my mind is hopelessly open and tangled*.

    Has it ever crossed your mind to put together a book or your words and images? I'm sure it has. It would be terrific!! : )))

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  20. Manon - good to know you enjoyed this. As for putting together a book, I have many book projects in mind at the moment, we shall see if any of them actually make it into print this year! My list of Things I'd Like to Do is only a few pages shorter than the U.S. budget they just published! All the best to you.

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  21. Gabriella this is outstanding!! You have a gift and it's amazing! You touched upon so many feelings and emotions......... I can relate!
    Keep up the great work! Peace,
    Scott

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  22. And when we think we see the truth, it changes as we change, it's different in some slight way the next day, month, year...evolving as we are - hopefully. Lovely thoughts and patterned images.

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  23. Hey Scott - glad you liked and related! I think of these posts as artworks in a way - they do seem to leave my hands in a condition I have strived to make as "finished" as possible, but then they seem to take on a life of their own once they are out in the world and experienced by other sensibilities which endlessly transform them. And just like physical works, they do a lot more good out there than sitting in storage! All the best to you.

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  24. TB - What you say relates to what I answered to Scott about works altering with perception. Maybe all we can hope for is to be authentic and sincere in our representations of ourselves and our art, and leave the last word on "what is truth?" to finer minds than mine! Why would any human invention NOT be mutable and difficult to define? Have a great week.

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  25. Dear Gabriella, you got the great gift of putting what it is all about very clearly into words.Living is an adventure, in the whole picture things just are, no matter of good or bad. We can choose to pick things out or things come on our path. Struggle and confusion, being at peace and happy are all parts to me of a meaningful existence,balancing each other.
    Going through lots of feelings and emotions is also my way, it is how I am and it makes sense to me.
    Thanks for this post,You may be far away but you feel very close and that's a warm feeling. This is a post to cherish and to read again,xx(my vocabulary is too limited,I should study my English more, but I know you understand ;)

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  26. Dear Renilde - thank you so much for your kind comment! I am glad you understand. I feel we are closer than the actual geographical distance too! Take care, my dear friend.

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  27. Skizo, thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your comment.

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  28. wow , what a text... opening holes all over !! ( or closing it )
    fantastic . i have no words.
    and great photos , as always .
    hugs.

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  29. Caio I am so glad you liked both the text and images in this post! Wow - I made you speechless!?!? That is quite an accomplishment! Hugs to you.

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  30. I visited this post for the first time and it set me off thinking and into an inward journey within myself. I couldn't and didn't want to comment at that time. I have returned again to read this post and can only say I marvel at the way you can so clearly put into words the complex thoughts and twists of one’s mind. Your posts are always thought provoking. I am glad to have found you and Brian your posts are always inspiring. Thank you for this post and your images are as always fabulous. I especially like the image "openings" very beautiful. Hope your health is a lot better now. Take care :)

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  31. Narayan - that's a great compliment, that you found the contents of this post worth reading, pondering and reading again! I really do put a lot of thought into sorting out these complicated matters, as a survival mechanism mostly, or the chaos would surely become intolerable. Now that I'm unemployed I finally have the time to do justice to the workings of my mind by putting some of it into writing, which is a great relief and pleasure, even moreso when sharing it seems to provide some pleasure for others as well! Many thanks. Healthwise, it's been a difficult winter - a bad cold in November, a stomach virus last month, and just when I was feeling 100 percent again, I've caught another bad cold! I can't wait for spring! Have a great weekend.

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  32. Great,
    beautiful,
    interesting,
    awesome photos!!!

    Bravo Gabriella!!
    baci

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  33. Mille grazie, cara Denise! So glad you enjoyed this. Baci.

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  34. Congratulations for these pictures, i'm absolutely amazed by them ! i hope to see more of these, they are inspiring :) good work !

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  35. Greetings, DynamiteJ, and welcome! I am happy you like these photographs, they are some of my recent favorites. You will definitely be seeing more - I'm doing a lot of shooting this week and will share the results very soon! Be well.

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