My sister-in-law, Carrie, scored a big home run with her Christmas gift to me this year: a photography book I’d been pining for called Beyond Portraiture by Bryan Peterson. I devoured it over our ten day vacation, boring my long-suffering husband with countless “aha!” passages while he was held captive in place behind the wheel of our minivan. It was just the nudge I needed to try and increase my understanding of shutter speed, aperture and composition. In this gem of a manual, chock full of the author’s own phenomenal “How in the world did he pull that off?” images, Mr. Peterson waxes on enthusiastically about point of view, vertical verses horizontal shots, the rule of thirds, backlight and scale. Getting ready to embark on a hiking expedition with my side of our family, I took careful note of that last section.
Think of scale as a thermometer or an IQ test and it becomes apparent just how powerful a compositional tool it is, writes Peterson....The answers that each of these tools provides can have a huge impact not only on one’s emotions but, subsequently, on what course of action one will then choose to take. I better wear long underwear and take a scarf now that I’m headed outside and it's 8 degrees! Well, I guess I’m not destined to be a nuclear physicist now that I know my IQ!
The power of the human form is much like these tools. Wow, is that ever a big piece of machinery! Or, That’s a huge cliff! as you notice the two rock climbers scaling the cliff face. Think about making use of the human form to point to the scale of the surrounding elements, whether they be big or small.
Where we were bound there’d be all kinds of opportunities to practice scale, I figured, what with the cliffs and thick layer of forest lining the paths we’d soon encounter. I was excited the next morning as we bundled up in layers and tied on our hiking boots before heading out to explore the strip mall free vastness of nature. “How about we start with trail five?” My husband suggested, map in hand. So trail five it was! A moderately rugged choice winding through frost speckled creeks, moss covered logs and over strategically placed foot bridges. Ben and Priscilla pretended to be forging their way through the untamed wilderness, and later on characters in a Tolkien novel on a dangerous and valiant quest. I, however, had Peterson’s scale tool on my mind and was on heightened alert for a chance to try it out. “Stop right there!” I yelled suddenly when Troy and my middle two passed an especially staggering rock formation. Quite used to my frequent photography antics, they assumed a posing position without question. Hmmm, yes...perfect, I thought.
When I had them in the cross hairs of my viewfinder, I obediently zoomed out until they took up but a fraction of the image. Click! Even on my tiny LCD screen I could see immediately that their smallness enhanced the magnificence of the cliff behind them. It was eye opening to discover how that which is finite can so effectively showcase the boundlessly infinite – once the main focus of the picture ceases to center around the finite, that is. The human form’s sole purpose in this instance is to invoke wonder in the viewer, not at itself but rather the largeness beyond it. Less of us, I guess you could say, results in the revelation of a much bigger picture.
It is January, the start of a whole new year, a whole new beginning - a time for taking inventory of our longings and ambitions. In the past, I’ve sprinted from this starting block armed with very specific goals all zeroed in on my success, my artistic/intellectual/financial growth. I’ve panned in closely, until only my person, with my individual fears and preferences, was in view. Inevitably, however, all that ogling of myself eventually becomes depressing. Ugh, look at my wrinkles, my flaws, my weaknesses, my jealousies and addictions. I am ugly. I am hopeless. I am scared. I am frustrated. I am sinning by despairing of God’s immeasurable, uncontainable mercy, which I’ve hidden from both myself and others by choosing to make myself the primary focus of my own attention. This year, I’m interested in aiming for something higher, broader, deeper ... something infinite. This year I’m pulling back and fixing my gaze on the eternity beyond the stale and insatiable temporariness of living for me.
In the Spiritual life, wrote St. Theophan the Recluse, New Year’s Day is when one becomes zealous about salvation and pleasing God. When one makes this resolution, then all is rebuilt afresh both internally and externally, upon new beginnings – the old passes away and all is new. ... The essence of the change we have mentioned is that a person begins from this moment to live solely for his salvation, for God. Ahhh, if only I could better remember how mystically freeing and fulfilling is an existence devoted, via acts of unconditional mercy, to the revealing of Christ’s mercy to one’s neighbor.
St. Symeon the New Theologian breaks it down this way:
Apart from love nothing whatever has existed, nor ever will. Its names and actions are many. More numerous still are its distinctive marks; divine and innumerable are its properties. Yet it is one in nature, wholly beyond utterance whether on the part of angels or men or any other creatures, even such as are unknown to us. Reason cannot comprehend it; its glory is inaccessible, its counsels unsearchable. It is eternal because it is beyond time, invisible because thought cannot comprehend it, though it may perceive it. Many are the beauties of this holy Sion not made with hands! He who has begun to see it no longer delights in sensible objects; he ceases to be attached to the glory of this world.
I’m picturing all of us together, supporting one another other with illogical joy in our hearts, simply because Christ, and thus Love, is. We are beaming despite our frailties, showcasing through those very shortcomings the grandeur of that Love, and Peace that passes all understanding. Even I have been forgiven over and over and over and over again. How can I keep from overflowing with a gratitude that gives constant witness to the goodness of Christ, the unfathomable patience of Christ?
Happy New Year, my brothers and sisters! God is with us!