Perspective is what makes it look like railroad rails meet somewhere out in the distance. It's also what makes tall buildings look like they taper more than they do when you play the tourist in New York City. It's what makes a drawing, painting or photograph appear to have depth when it's actually only two-dimensional. It's tied closely to point of view, both in the literal sense and when we use perspective outside of the mechanical and artistic situations described above.
My introduction to the importance and coolness of this concept, the literal version, came about by accident. In college, a bunch of my friends were journalism majors. They all wanted to be writers and editors and took turns doing those things. No one wanted to be the photographer so eventually they said: "Hey Gar, can you run a camera?" I never really had but jumped into the project anyway.
The newspaper had a shiny, new, 35mm single lens reflex camera and an old-fashioned double lens camera. Being the rookie, I usually ended up with the old camera. 35mm cameras are usually used at eye level. You looked through the eyepiece and right out the lens. This involves prisms and mirrors that flop the images so they look normal through the lens. The double lens was held close to waist level. You looked into the top and out through the upper lens at a reversed image. Took some getting used to. The picture was taken through the bottom lens.
While this camera was a throw-back to older technology, it turned out to be pivotal in my development as a photographer. I'd set the camera on the ground and get odd-looking, very low level pictures. I'd squat on the endline of the basketball court, tip the camera up, and the players appeared to soar to the ceiling. I'd hold it over my head and look up into it and it worked like a periscope giving a view much different from the one at eye level.
I can't say I've researched this, but I'm pretty sure our powerful brains make a lot of adjustments as our senses take in things. This seems to be particularly true of sight. Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to "see" perspective in the first place. (I think optical illusions are fun because they trick the sensory system by presenting things it CAN'T adjust to match "reality.") Anyway, from this, I deduced that we always see things from "eye-level." It doesn't matter if we are sitting or standing on something, our brain is saying: "This is what eye-level looks like."
So here I was, taking pictures, capturing images, you might say, at waist level, ground level, above head level all these different points of view.
Photography became a career that lasted 20 years. It wasn't long into that that people started saying: "I can always tell your pictures there's something different about them." After a while, I figured it out. I still used a double-lens reflex camera for a lot of my pictures and never hesitated to lie on the ground or clamber on to the roof of my truck when I switched to a single-lens reflex camera. I had somehow adopted "point of view" and "perspective" as an essential element in my "style."
Fascinating tale, isn't it? But here's the kicker. I did something instinctively that anyone can learn to do. It's probably a basic principle in every basic art/photography educational program. I can see it as a bullet point on the professor's blackboard right now. "Use interesting points of view and perspectives." He would go on to say: "This is a tried and true aspect of art that has been used forever by the greatest artists in the iconic works we all love." Or some flowery crap like that. But look at this setting; it's a classroom where "what works" can be taught, understood, used by anyone! In other words, you don't have to figure out every good idea for yourself; some of them are already done. You can just adapt and adopt the ideas for your own use providing you get exposed to them somehow.
What's your perspective on life, its issues, and its problems? Are you "locked in" to the eye-level idea? That can be routine and boring and stifling of creativity. What if you took a lower "down and dirty" basic view? What if you took the "35,000-foot" overview? What if you wandered around and approached the situation "from the edge?" We haven't even talked about the sideways options!
We're talking about different ways of looking at things. Counselors call it "reframing," another art-related metaphor. The "frame" we put around a picture or event has a huge impact on how things look. Context can make all the difference in the world.
You can LEARN strategies to approach problems from different angles; you don't have to rely on instincts 100% of the time, especially if they haven't served you well in the past.
Sometime you just "dummy in" to better ideas. Don't be afraid of things that appear to be outside the box and sound or look a little different.
Oh, wait, one more point Change can happen in a gazillion different ways. "Giant steps" toward change can be helpful, but they're not necessary. In fact, they can be dangerous. We can get a false sense of the hard work it takes to make changes. We might say to ourselves. "OK, that's it, I'm done doing ------(fill in the blank)! There. Now everything will be fine" Not necessarily. So don't worry if you can't take "giant steps," Just be sure to celebrate any "baby steps" that move you toward your goals. "Reframe" to appreciate that reaching a goal successfully is a process and realize that a small change in your point of view can have a huge effect on how life looks to you.
Gary Lester, M.S., is the Executive Director of Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that helps people solve problems and be happier through counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups. Learn more about this important work at www.fswc.org.