Big Picture

October 07, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

A big-picture perspective can provide greater understanding. It can create an awareness of place and it can contain otherwise extraneous thinking. Before I begin a design project, I elicit the big picture from a client: Who is your audience? What do you hope to communicate? What will the piece be used for? What are your non-negotiables? etc. The only way to get to the big picture is to spend time with the details. 

Then why, I ask myself, when settling in to photograph, do I have this terrible proclivity for details? Terrible? Yes. It's like a magnetic attraction — walk into a cemetery and I swoon over swirled floral engravings, curved-edge crosses, and broken-winged cherubs. I spend hours lost in skilled craftsmanship, and fail to step back and really see the context of all these intricate pieces. I admit to putting the finishing touches on a photograph within Lightroom, moving to the keyword section, and realizing I have no answers for important questions. Who do these works represent? Were they male, female, parents, children, families, community members, town leaders? Did I catch the name? Why this place? Where is this place?  I've missed the bigger picture.

I chide myself for working this way. Maybe the awareness will eventually enable me to pendulum between the detail-big picture perspectives more easily. As part of a Photographing the Sacred class, I found myself in a church courtyard. A beautiful, solemn statue of a young girl stood amidst greenery. The scene, awash with late afternoon light begged to be captured. She was so young and somber, as if bravely holding a secret. But that wasn't what I saw first — the engraved floral design on her cloak drew me in. I was going to show that design in the best possible light, but this time, my assignment was to show the sacredness of her, or what she represented. So, I took a step back, but admittedly still focused on her face and her cloak. I moved, framed her, stood up, squatted, portrait, landscape...I tried everything I thought to do. And then I looked down. Her small foot held down a snake. I was stunned. I stopped. I wanted to know the story. She did hold a secret, yet she stood protecting her sanctuary resolutely. I would show her as brave, and I would show her secret; my first series. I felt victory.

Days later, I found myself at the keyword stage of this project and again realized I had no idea what church we had visited. And then, a week later, talking with our class instructor about the statue, I thought to ask her if she knew its significance, who it represented. "Mary," she said. My victory bubble burst. How could I have been so blind?

Realizing we were at a Catholic church and that I was looking at a representation of Christ's mother would have given me greater understanding, a powerfully significant tool in this communication art. I wonder if seeing this big picture first would have resulted in stronger images. I'll try again, but maybe next time being enamored by details will enable sight to convey significant understanding.




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