A Moment to Reflect

4 September 2020

A Moment to Reflect -99

“Sometimes beauty lies in what is ignored. Sometimes beauty results from what is ignored.” —Khang Kijarro Nguyen

Previously when I’ve shown people this photograph of a red hawk and asked them where they think it was taken, I get a wide variety of suggestions, usually of various wild and remote locations in the Scottish Highlands. In fact, it was taken at Greenock docks, in 2011, at the time that the ‘Tall Ships Race’ weekend took place there. The bird was one of a collection of birds of prey on display and was, like all the others (sadly) chained to a post. Its unhappy situation did of course make it much easier for me to take its portrait.

By making sure that the background is blurred, and by composing the shot to contain only the top half of the bird, you can let people’s imagination fill in what they don’t see. In other words, you remove the context. (Nowadays, with the right software, you can do this with any photograph after it has been taken.) But if you want to get ‘the full picture’ you need the context. In many areas of life, however, we will never have the full picture, we will only ever have as much as we are able to see and understand from our particular viewpoint, perspective, and moment in time.

The Israeli Professor of Psychology, Noam Shpancer, reminds us: “The frame, the definition, is a type of context. And context, as we said before, determines the meaning of things. There is no such thing as the view from nowhere, or from everywhere for that matter. Our point of view biases our observation, consciously and unconsciously. You cannot understand the view without the point of view.” Noam Shpancer, The Good Psychologist

I think removing the context is a legitimate practice in the art of ‘making’ a photograph, but when it is used deliberately to twist the truth and deceive others for another purpose, or even to deceive yourself, then it’s a different story.

 As one writer puts it: “Separate text from context and all that remains is a con.”― Stewart Stafford

This kind of manipulation of reality is going on all the time—particularly in the worlds of politics and the media, but also in religion and the interpretation of religious texts. 

You don’t always have to tell a downright lie to deceive (though in recent times many shamelessly do.) All you have to do is blur the context, omit certain aspects of reality, use a few key phrases to trigger particular inbuilt prejudices and you control the way people think …to your own advantage …or your own delusion.

Jesus said, “the truth will set you free,” but how easy and convenient it sometimes is to be like the red hawk and just get used to being in captivity …or keeping others there.