Beneath Surfaces

To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces and record the qualities of nature and humanity which live or are latent in all things […] Some photographers take reality as the sculptors take wood and stone and upon it impose the dominations of their own thoughts and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation. A true photograph need not be explained nor can be contained in words.
–Ansel Adams

Here, Adams is talking about seeing truly and about seeing what we want to see. Ostensibly, this quote is about photography, but I see it as about people too. When we meet people, we have a choice with how we will see them. One is an open, vulnerable choice where people can surprise, fail, and love as they are meant to be. The other is closed; it is full of the baggage we carry from other relationships, superficial judgments, and limited possibilities. The former is dangerous. It is full of hope. The latter is safe. It is wrapped in expectations.

In Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry writes about hope and expectation and the difficulty navigating between the two:

Living without expectations is hard but, when you can do it, good. Living without hope is harder, and that is bad. You have got to have hope, and you mustn’t shirk it. Love, after all, “hopeth all things.” But maybe you must learn, and it is hard learning, not to hope out loud, especially for other people. You must not let your hope turn into expectation.

When we approach our relationships with others with expectations, we are exerting the dominion of our own wishes and desires on others. We cease to hope for and in the other person. We put them in a box, limiting them to what we decide they can be.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle quotes a French priest:

To love anyone is to hope in him always. From the moment at which we begin to judge anyone, to limit our confidence in him, from the moment we identify [pigeon-hole] him, and so reduce him to that, we cease to love him, and he ceases to be able to become better. We must dare to love in a world that does not know how to love .

To hope in someone is to truly love them. To trust that the revelation of their true nature (not our expectations) will be expressed. To hope in someone is to be an instrument that moves beyond surfaces and defenses to access the truth in us all.

L’Engle continues, echoing Adam’s observations about control and love.

It seems that more than ever the compulsion today is to identify, to reduce someone to what is on the label. To identify is to control, to limit. To love is to call by name and so open the wide gates of creativity. But we forget names and turn to labels… If we are pigeon-holed and labelled we are un-named.

Hoping is often painful and slow and takes years of patient work like tiny drops of water forming fantastical stalactite formations. But in a practice of hoping in others, our way of seeing people and the world is tranformed, honed–much as Adam’s eye was sharpened by his practice of seeing a moment as it is.

There is great wonder in how truly beautiful a hoped-for person can be.

Posted In

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s