One of the biggest things I’ve learnt from photography is the skill of omission. I don’t mean omission to get out of sticky situations, but helpful omission. Like not expressing all the many snarky thoughts that run through my mind about the natives every day (except to liangze, of course) (did you know he is becoming snarkier and saying meaner things because of me? It’s all very troubling.) After all, photography is all about omission. I usually omit people. And then from my nature shots, I omit any sort of machinery. The space of things that are expressed in a photo is really an astonishingly small fraction of what the human eye can perceive, and inversely, the beauty of elegant proportions that photographers perceive is overwhelmingly more than what the non-photographer, with both eyes wide open, will ever see. Some people who look at my current photos always ask me where I have travelled, even though I haven’t so much as moved a toe out of this country ever since I flew back from Ithaca. Laziness, I guess. And things to save for. But it’s easy to make a place look unlike singapore – omit the people, omit the HDBs, omit the tall buildings, etc. If you think about it, the vast majority of singapore does not look like what you expect singapore to look like. It’s just that with facebook and camera phones everyone takes photos of the same old thing, same old marina bay and same old super trees, same old singapore skyline in the CBD so anything that has not appeared on facebook before must be a different place/time/space. Ridiculous.
I do feel sorry for non-photographers though, you walk through spaces without really looking around. It’s like reading a literary text without understanding what it’s about. I confess I read the entire Cat’s Cradle without understanding the subtext of Bokononism. Can’t say I’ll be returning to Kurt Vonnegut’s books anytime soon. But life must be so drab! I suppose with less ability to perceive beautiful things, one will consequently possess less ability to create beautiful things, and it’s not really an essential life skill. But learning to omit things really is. When you make a presentation, knowing what to omit in your favour is essential. Knowing what will bore people, knowing how to cut to the chase. When you make a critique, knowing to omit unnecessarily nasty language that will bias your readers against you. When you make conversation, knowing to omit any self-absorbed references, knowing how not to take whatever your friend is talking about and make it about you is a very important skill that I can’t say any of the natives have mastered.
On the flip side, photography doesn’t just make you aware of acute beauty; it also makes you aware of acute ugliness, things that must go in any composition. Because each shot is so flippantly taken, ugly things are flippantly cast aside, edited out. That may hurt people’s feelings, but there it is. One’s tolerance for ugliness, ugly things, ugly scenes, ugly people, ugly behaviours is steadily tamped down, until I am who I am today – difficult to please. It is good news for liangze though, for I slowly edit all his bad parts out. First, the offensive things inside him – rudeness, cruelty, a penchant for droning on and on about what fascinates him (which usually does not fascinate anybody else), and second, the offensive things outside him, like the awful hair and how it sticks out in every which direction. Truthfully, I don’t really care how he looks- it’s not like I’m bringing anything to the table. After all, the first thing I omit in every photo is myself. But because most of the time I can’t see myself, there’s no real need to correct the way I look – it can only annoy other people. I don’t really know why so many girls obsess about it when they can’t see themselves for the vast majority of their lives. And it really should be a personal choice to have an ugly mug and keep it ugly. But having to deal with his hair every morning is a whole other kettle of fish. It has improved greatly since I got him that little tub of gatsby grunge matte wax. But to quote a below average headmaster, you can’t polish a turd.
(Just kidding darling I think you look quite handsome when you are not making all the stupid faces you have in your stable of psychopathic/autistic facial expressions.)
For example, compare this: