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THE CAMERA AND THE PHOTOGRAPHER

FOCUS AND PERSPECTIVE- SEPT 2003

THE CAMERA AND THE PHOTOGRAPHER

A Bird’s Eye View

Let us begin as always by clearing and centering ourselves. Like a tree, we are deeply grounded and spread wide. Breathe in the light, breathe out all worry. Breathe in the light, breathe out all sadness. Breathe in the light, breathe out all concerns. And now, feeling light, we embark on a journey…or maybe, just a flight of fancy. Flying like a bird, we find ourselves in the French countryside. A bird’s eye view reveals several trees, a lake, several large maisons [stately homes] set in abundant grounds. It is getting dark, and yet there are several people in the grounds of one maison.

Many people mill around, and there are areas of very bright light and some in utter darkness. As our mind in its bird-like form flies in, circling around the area, we see that the people are all dressed and coiffed as for a party. There is a stage which is empty. Yet it seems that not long ago, it was used for a special performance. The chairs for the other party guests all face the stage.

Ah, so this is a party!

Then we see a cameraman. Not unusual at a party- except that it is a professional camera. Coming closer, the scene is clearer. This is a film party and the party-goers are all actors. Very quietly, let’s descend and perch on the shoulder of the cameraman. After all, a lot of the action appears to be focused around him!

With his high-focus lens, the photographer films the action he sees before him. The performers play their parts, well-rehearsed for the camera.

The movie camera captures each move, each facial expression, each placement of the props around them. And so it is that the feelings of the actors, the placement of their hands, that flying wisp of hair, that chair a little out of place, the hand awkwardly placed – all are caught on film, for posterity. Not merely what the actors portray, but also what they are unaware of: all filmed by the steady hand of the photographer, and the high resolution lens of his movie camera.

But as the birdlike mind looks around, it notices…..

The camera catches only what it focuses on. And yes- a little of the scene around the main focus as well.

At the periphery of the tangles of people and wires, someone is filming- the making of the film. In the same place but not a part of the shoot, an eager fan films the scene of her interest. She is making a film about her friend who is an extra in the film. The same scene. But seen from another perspective, another camera, another photographer.

And what is going on under the skin of all these protagonists? Caught in the drama of life, they cannot see the physiological changes within them as they play out their parts: the tiny chemical adjustments needed for them to show an emotion, perform their actions,the wars going on between germs and defenders in their blood, the sore throat that will soon turn into a cough.

Layers within layers; layers around layers. Like a spiral ring, reality unravels as it is approached. That’s what life is all about. What layer do we choose to focus on? Which perspective do we approach from? What reality do we make for ourselves?

Whose reality are we a part of? Do we influence someone we do not know but who sees us, reads us, knows about us? What do people know about me that I do not know about myself? [Remember the Johari window?]

Does the photographer choose to believe only what the camera sees? Does he pretend that what is beyond the range of his camera, does not exist? We sometimes do that with life. What I can’t see, hear, feel, taste or smell does not exist, we say. It is not important to me.

Yet it takes just a swing of the camera, a rotating of our head, an acknowledgement of our inner senses, to change the perspective, to see something new in the life we live.

To acknowledge that without the director, the scene in front of the camera would not take place; without the production crew, the filming could not proceed smoothly. Without the eagerness of watching fans, the actors may be a little more tired at the repeating takes.

Whom are we missing in our own lives? Which people make up our reality but out of range of our focus? What actions of others affect our lives that we choose not to focus on?

The awareness of this truth is sufficient to expand us; even if we don’t focus on this for the moment. The film camera focuses on what the photographer, with his awareness of the larger scene, decides to center on.

And what of still cameras? They capture snapshots of life. Posed or unposed- a fraction of a moment in a person’s life is captured on film; there to define him or her for the ages. Like a still camera, our mind also takes snapshots about our life, and the people and places and things around us. After a snapshot has been taken, a first impression, it governs the way we look at the people, places or things. We no longer look at life, we assess, judge, characterize and know it by the snapshot in our mind. Like a colored lens, we hang the snapshots, the first impressions, the dominant impressions, in front of our focus, and look at life through them. Subtleties will escape our notice unless they become strong enough to break through the earlier snapshot. Then we remove the old one and put a new snapshot, a new impression of a changed person, a new filter in our viewing of reality.

What are we actually experiencing? What are we not?

The philosopher who would not be a guru- J. Krishnamurti- exhorted his listeners: Can you see the tree? Are u looking at the tree or are you categorizing it:” it’s a banyan tree, I’ve seen it before, it has aerial…roots”. Don’t categorize the tree: look at it!

Can we see the people in our lives in that way? Keep the snapshots behind us; not go so much by our first impressions, but keep making a new one each time we meet them? What would happen if we did that? What are we afraid of? A chaotic world, seeming less intelligent, less sophisticated? What prevents us from seeing each other- and ourselves- in a new way each time?

Philosophers and poets tell us that we are all actors. How exciting it would be if we could see the movie of our lives from the outermost layer, the furthest perspective; and also from the inner most layer, the closest, and all the layers in between.

Having surveyed the scene, the bird flies away, unnoticed, unwatched. Another protagonist in the drama that went on in that quiet countryside in France.

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©2003 Meenakshi Suri

If you forward this writing, please keep all information intact. 

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