On Being Small

Tub GurnardA Tilt-Shift Photograph of a Construction Site

I was just looking at some tilt-shift photos. For those who’ve never seen any (some samples are available here and here, and of course, above), the technique is a way to make real sights look like they are tiny models. Beyond simply being clever and looking cool, the technique can force you to look with new eyes.

Surely one of the greatest purposes of art is to force one to look at something anew and to see it differently than they previously had. Tilt-shift photography does that very effectively. It baldly asks the difficult question of “Why?” A picture of commuters shows a reality we understand well. A tilt-shift picture of commuters forces one to take a step back and ask why is this thing occurring?

Surely there are 100 very valid reasons. People need money to live in this modern world. The surest way to get money is to exchange your time for it. The surest way to be able to exchange your time for it is to regularly go to a place were there is a concentration of work in need of people with time. And thus: commuting.

It’s all so rational that it’s almost impossible to question. But, look at a tilt-shift photo of a model train pulling into a model train station with model people preparing to board and that whole logic becomes alien. These people look small and their world looks small and their routine looks small. They are small.

I am small.

Being small is generally taken in one of two ways. One is either comfortable or uncomfortable with it. I’m not sure which, if either, is preferable.

One can see their smallness in the face of the epic vastness of the universe as a great relief. Proof that the biggest mistakes you’ve ever made in your life are of little consequence. That time marches forward whether you succeed or fail, so there’s no use fretting much over your failings. This thinking can, however, give way to a nihilism that leaves me cold. A “it doesn’t matter” attitude can reject the fact that what one does in their life does matter, if only because all those other people are just as small as they are.

Discomfort is the opposite to that nihilistic tendency. Truly, it says, that picture does make you look small, and consideration of the whole universe makes your failures small. But we don’t live from far away or behind tilt-sift photographs. We live in it among small inconsequential people on a small inconsequential planet. If everything’s small, it’s all really quite large.

This thinking can, however, give rise to concerns out-of-balance with reality. The kind of concern that makes even a small error seem like an utter catastrophe. I’m not comfortable with that either.

There is, I think, no great comfort in being incredibly small nor incredibly large. No great comfort to be found in being completely powerless or fully omnipotent. So I guess that means I’ll just try to be as medium-sized as I can be.

One response to “On Being Small”

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I like the “medium-sized” concept.

    Also, I never heard of tilt-shift photography – I love the two links you have in the post – very interesting stuff.

    DBH – you are COOL.