Monday, November 2, 2009

The rule of three

I've been doing an ongoing photography project with the friend I met at my Miksang class back in September. Each week we tackle a different aspect of composition, and go out with our cameras to see what speaks to us. I wasn't as devoted to the task this week as I might have been, given the heavy rains, and then when the weather got nicer my back kept me indoors.

So when I was finally mobile for a while yesterday morning there wasn't much time to really get into the challenge of seeing. I certainly got shots that featured repetition (this week's subject) but they had little to offer in the way of artistic or meditative appeal, with this one exception, which I shot on the way home from that brief outing.

I just love the contrast of the blue sky and the red fence. And what I love even more is that when I stopped and backed up to shoot the reflection of the fence in the puddle, a second reflection emerged on the hood of my car. Now THERE, I thought, was REPETITION. And seeing it reminds me of my rule of three. Not the photographer's rule of thirds, just the rule of three.

The rule of three crops up in lots of areas in my life. It refers, in our family mythology, to a wonderful old Vermont joke about a newly married couple leaving their wedding in a horse drawn buggy. A little way down the road the horse balks, jostling the carriage, and the man says, "That's one." Further down the road the horse does it again. "That's two," says the groom. When the horse stops a third time, the man says "That's three," pulls out his rifle, and shoots the horse, killing him instantly. His bride, watching this, starts screaming at him. "What in the WORLD do you think you're doing? That's the only horse we had! What are we going to do now, Mr. Smart Man?" The man looks her in the eye and says,"That's one!"

The phrase, "That's one!" -- usually accompanied with a grin -- has become shorthand in our family for "yes, I really love you, but you're ticking me off so watch it!" It's proven to be a useful and humorous way to lighten up potentially awkward confrontations while at the same time declaring boundary lines between appropriate and uncomfortable behaviors.

The rule of three also dates back to when our children were little, and we needed them to either do something or stop doing something, as in "you had better be in bed by the time I count to three or else!" It worked beautifully for ages; it was years before our older daughter finally said, "What happens when we get to three, Mommy?" -- thank heavens for the innocence of childhood!

But where the rule of three really works for me is when it feels like the universe is giving me messages -- and I don't mean the kind of "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" sort of messages but rather the instances where something is calling you to be noticed, to stop, to make a shift in your path. I love those "coincidences" in life. I also love the fact that the discipline of photography not only helps you learn to pay attention, so that you're more likely to see those coincidences, but it also rewards your willingness to respond with little gifts like this second reflection.

I saw the fence, and saw that there was repetition in it. That's one.

I saw the reflection. That's two.

I responded by backing up, and was given another reflection: That's three! And I take it all as a reminder to notice, to stop, to be willing to reverse direction from time to time if necessary. Good to know -- and I know just where I'll start backing up this morning.


Joyce Wycoff said...

Diane ... thanks for a laugh and a great thought. It's funny how an image sometimes takes over and leads us into such interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

Maureen said...

I laughed, too. That's one. Then I re-read what you wrote. That's two. Then I said, I can see how I can apply Diane's message to myself. That's three!

You accomplished a lot today with your post.