Monday, June 16, 2008
The Zen of Photography II
A fine window dedicated to a former vicar dominates the interior of my church from it's position in the East wall, above the altar. If you were there on a clear morning with the sun shining through it this is what you would see:
Raise your camera to your eye, carefully compose the shot and press the shutter button and this is what you'd get:
The reason the top is skinny and the bottom is fat is because this is what it actually looks like. You don't see it that way because you brain has recognised the effect of things getting smaller the further they are away from you, done some very clever maths, and compensated for it without you even noticing. What you see in normal, everyday life is not the actual window, but an idea of what the window should look like; you're seeing an ideal version of the window, if you like. To make the camera take the picture you have in your brain requires one of two things: either a very expensive tilt and shift lens, or some jiggery pokery with a piece of editing software; in this case, Photoshop, the same program which lets me take out the extraneous bits of altar and also change a perfectly decent brown Port Chalmers door a fetching shade of blue.
Why change the colour of a door? it looks better. Why straighten up the sides of the window? It looks better. At least I think so, because I am not seeing the actual door or the actual window, but some idealised idea of what the door or window is or should or might be. We often see the world not as it is but as we'd like it to be. We often look at what is actually there only in comparison to some ideal that we have inherited from goodness knows where.Which is harmless enough when it's just a photo we're talking about, but deadly to us and to others when we're talking about other things.
Our own bodies for instance, which never match the airbrushed pattern of what they should be like that we take out and lay over the top of our own extraordinary and beautiful machinery every time we look in a mirror.
People for instance. We in relationships don't see the miraculous human being we are partnered with but some ideal spouse we have garnered from a pastiche of novels and magazines and experiences, and the poor partner always fails in comparison. So, much work is expended in trying to make the light of our lives fit the mould of what we know the light of our lives should be. And even if by energetic persuasion of a thousand sorts we succeed, so what? Our cajoling and manipulation and bullying would mean that we are partnered not with a real human being but some sort of Frankenstein monster of our own creation.
Or churches for instance. I read with morbid fascination the writings of some of my fellow Anglicans who are sick of the old flawed, multifarious church and who long to set up the new improved version with purity of doctrine and 57% more morality, especially in those matters that really count (and, no no, we don't mean oppression, destruction of the planet and those other trivialities. We mean the issues that have to do with your dangly bits and where you put them). It's the same old same old. The ideal church is constantly in mind and of course the real church must pale beside it. But what commentators like this have overlooked that even if they managed to set up their version of heaven on earth, who in their right mind would want to join it? The reformers themselves would find, within a year at the most, that whatever they set up fell far short of the ideal: how could it not? For many there would be the need to move on to something even purer. The rest of us would never manage to achieve the standards of moral and doctrinal purity required for membership.
Odd isn't it when we claim to have a gospel of Grace: that is, of complete unmerited acceptance by God? Odd when we follow a saviour who dined with thieves; who embraced and called 'daughter' a woman who had carried her stinking ritual impurity around with her for twelve lonely years, far too filthy for the righteous people to speak to, let alone touch. Very odd indeed.