filters and frames


The trip to LA in December brought an unexpected inspiration. "We have to Instagram this," someone must have said at least a dozen times during my two-day visit, and though I'd downloaded the application onto my phone at some point in a burst of tech acquisition frenzy (I was downloading everything from Nike workout videos to The Weather Channel), I'd neglected to spend any time exploring this tool.


Meanwhile, everyone was snapping away and uploading their photos while I stayed in my little corner poo-pooing the warp speed of our society's comings and goings and the slim window of time we're actually living before we go and report that life to the world at large. It's a strange sort of narration to me, this hawk-eye stare we apply to our most ordinary moments, but of course, I'm guilty of it too...this blog, after all, is called "This Every Moment" - what else am I doing but training the eye of my proverbial microscope onto the minutiae of my day?


During my two days in Los Angeles, though, I realized that there was, perhaps, another way to look at what I sometimes fear is too much navel-gazing. The photos my friends sharing through Instagram seemed to bring their subject matter to an even more colorful life. It's like this little window actually created a new kind of seeing, and the object itself became elevated, artful, dynamic in a way that it would not have had it not been captured.


So it wasn't long before I found myself exploring the application, testing out its filters and frames to see what would make photograph even more striking. Something about the wash of colors, the jagged borders, and the cropping features has invited a new kind of photographic adventure, and I find myself bending down under logs, honing in on mechanical pencils, stopping during some cooking preparations to bear down my phone camera on a pile of sliced peppers.


It's like poetry, really, at least the way I experience it when I'm writing. The shaping that happens when I'm finding the voice of the poem, the heart of it, which often means paring down the extraneous details, narrowing my gaze. And when I look at these photos, I see that what I'm inspired by is the beauty of the almost-missed: the coil of a garden hose, the holiday lights on a downtown tree, an old wooden floor, sliced red onion on a cutting board, a cast-off action figure on a carpet, the lines of a radiator, the fabric details on a skirt, packaging and signs, an aisle in the grocery store, a moment with a dog, snowflakes on a cold morning, and the ephemeral light of a full moon.


But it isn't just about the image itself. It's the way I can transform it through the frame and filter I pass it through. And of course, of course, I can already feel the metaphor of this. The picture we carry of what we do, where we're going, how we feel, who we are, and how this can bog us down, prevent us from making big leaps and transformations that are more in alignment with how we want to live. It doesn't mean that these pictures aren't true. But I see that there are additional, deeper, granular truths that underlie them, and these have a different texture and color and pulse. But to find these truths, we have to reframe these pictures, these stories, by considering other ways of telling them. There's a freedom in this, an emancipation from old narratives that no longer fit who we are or who we want to be. And it starts by letting our gaze find a new geography. Not the kitchen counter that needs cleaning. But the bowl of clementines resplendent in an otherworldly orange. We have to find what wakes us up. What stirs our senses open. What makes us come incontestibly, unabashedly alive.