Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.

Digital Technology, Faith & Religion, Photography

Photography and Spiritual Formation (4): Perspective

There are many things I like about photography but among those things is a fascination with symmetry, perspective, and geometry. It’s probably why I tend to photograph things in an urban settings (Sallie McFague’s “second nature”), rather than in a more natural setting like landscapes, forest and bush, the back garden (“first nature”), or photographing people. There are more angles and converging lines – architecture comes with in-built geometry – and even clashing architectural styles can lead to interesting juxtapositions of geometries.

Some of it I’m sure is the way my mind wants to superimpose patterns and symmetry upon the world; drawing out hidden meanings caught up in it, if only you had the eyes to see. When I have a pen in my hand I’m constantly drawing triangles and symmetrical patterns, imposing a kind of orderliness upon the ink and page.

(As an aside, when taking a computer graphics and mapping course back in postgraduate computer science, I found the development of Triangulated Irregular Networks (TINs) really intriguing – not so much for the mathematics but for the way they layered across landscapes providing scalable visual representations of geography. One of the co-inventors of the TIN system, Tom Peucker (Poiker), was co-lecturer for that course).

Anyway, that’s why things like using the Golden Ratio/Spiral or the Rule of Thirds in photography. They are not so much tools (though they are), as things which produce an affective response in me when taking, reviewing, editing, and viewing images.

The Golden Ratio

Icey at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Rule of Thirds

John R. Daily, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

There are, of course, spiritual dimensions to this as well as the mathematics and aesthetics. Kataphatic approaches to theology and spirituality tend to want to define things rationally and neatly – typically through positive statements that clearly demarcate who or what a particular theological concept is. This approach can lead to integrated systems of theology that follow a kind of logical, geometric ordering to their systems. So for those of us who like everything to be connected in clear, logical ways, it helps to have the equivalent of the Golden Ratio or the Rules of Thirds to shape theological thinking and make sense of spiritual experience.

Of course, that means that theological paradoxes or the messiness of divine experiences don’t fit neatly into such systems. Questions that arise from human experience of the world might not fit also, and we left with ways of expressing our faith and theology that refuse to put God in a box or are only expressed with negatives such as “God is not…” That path is often connected to apophatic spirituality and theology, which lends itself more to mysticism, the mystery and unknowableness of God, and dwelling in holy darkness.

Both kataphatic and apophatic theology and spirituality have their place in our finite grasping after the infinite, and so also with photography. There are times when well-defined frameworks and calculations about exposures, apertures, shutter speeds, and the composition of a shot will have their places – and that may be the norm. But there is also a place for doing away with the rules sometimes or taking photos without stopping to think about the shot, which may produce something out of the ordinary or which just can’t be planned for. Just as rigorous theological systems can squeeze the life out of faith and become idols in themselves, so too photographic systems can do the same to an enjoyment of photography.

Knowing when to break the rules and experiment comes with both time and an openness to both Spirit and the world around us. Something I’m learning to do more.

Waikato Hospital, January 2019
Sturges Road Station, September 2021
Henderson Town Centre, February 2022
San Diego (by Convention Center), November 2019
Petone Wharf
New Lynn Station, August 2020