Wednesday, January 9, 2008

On softening our focus

This image is from the Vancouver Airport in Vancouver, BC -- definitely the most beautiful airport I've ever been in. Whoever designed it seems to have understood that travel can be stressful, and therefore created one of the most deliberately calming environments I've ever encountered. Water, fish, trees, statues, artwork, decor -- all with a sort of delicious undersea feel, lots of soothing blues and greens.

But I bring you this image because of what I learned in its post-processing. It was, like many of the photos I took on my recent trip, slightly out of focus. My new camera does low light extremely well, so I have a tendency to push it even farther than it can reasonably go. At midnight, in an airport which clearly relies heavily on natural lighting, things were fairly dark and soothing, with lots of blue in the spectrum.

Normally with a shot that's out of focus I try to sharpen it, either with Photoshop's sharpen filter or by darkening the tones in the middle of the light spectrum. Neither process works particularly well; I hear Nikon is coming out with some software that will allow you to improve focus in post processing and I'm looking forward to testing that.

But with this image I decided to reduce the noise levels, to essentially blur rather than focus. And I think the results are very satisfying. I'm wondering if choosing to blur rather than sharpen is a bit like choosing to step back from our problems rather than focusing in on them. Perhaps if we are not quite so caught up in the moment, in the struggle, but relax, take the slightly removed view, the larger picture will be more effectively revealed? The forest, not the trees; the shape of our lives and directions, rather than the distracting individual textures.

Which can also be very calming. I remember, as a child, riding in my parents' car in the night, in the rain, and being frightened. If I took off my glasses (I am very nearsighted) all the drops on the windshield became pleasant blurs of light, making patterns against the darkness. It was very soothing, and then I would find it easier to sleep as they drove.

The curse of intelligence is that relentless voice in the head, always analyzing and processing, checking for the edges between dark and light, comparing, contrasting. And certainly one meaning of the verb "to contemplate" is to consider, to focus in on something. But perhaps contemplation is also the relaxing of our mental vision, a way of looking at things without choosing to look at them, by staying focused on the emptiness, the negative space that surrounds that which absorbs and distracts us.

We are always so intrigued by coincidences, connections, things that touch unexpectedly. But perhaps the best way to see them is to step back, to soften, to let our attention drift into the space around the people and events that capture us. And the truth of the matter is that for me it is there, in that space, in that moment of suspension, that I most feel the presence of God.

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