Rachel Olshausen

See the Forest for the Trees

A wise teacher once told me, “You have to see the forest for the trees”. I didn’t understand it when she said it. I think I came back with some smarmy remark about those being the same thing- but they aren’t.

 None of us can universally agree on what is beautiful. An architect may find beauty in the arching ceiling of an old post office, while a photographer may find himself awe-struck by the way a model’s eyes catch the morning light. What would the difference be? As said by Gilpin, the things we generally perceive as beautiful are smooth, free of imperfections, and generally placed on a pedestal of sorts.  In contrast, something cracked, flawed, and more realistic is quite different.  This can be described as the picturesque. For example, take the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa exemplifies human standards for beauty in painted form. If you compare the Mona Lisa with a Picasso, of a woman who’s nose is where her ears should be, and vice versa, one may not say it is beautiful. But in its flaws and its candid imperfection, it is picturesque.

This picture represents beauty.  It is aesthetically pleasing, and appeals to the viewer with appreciation for nature. The way the sun shines through the foliage masks any imperfections the trunk or leaves might actually have. The contrast of the green grass and the shades emphasize the smooth lines of the trunk and branches. It looks like it would be impossible to find a flaw within the whole image. This picture was taken mid-morning, when I felt struck by how perfect the lighting was to capture the scene- a tip provided by Kodak, in fact. The way I look at this picture is the way I beleive you look at someone when you first meet them, to a certain extent.  You see the big picture at first- what clothes they wear, what color hair they have, how much makeup they wear or attitude they have. Most people make some sort of a judgement at this point, be it good or bad.

The next step, in both photography and in life, is to take a closer look. This picture is the result of such a step. In an attempt to seek the picturesque,  I moved closer to the trunk. While looking up through the branches and the leaves, I caught the sun at the perfect moment and angle- It illuminates the frame in such a way that the little details are actually eliminated, rather than highlighted. While it yielded the opposite of what I was looking for in terms of the picturesque goes, I did find deeper meaning in it, if I were to continue thinking about my pictures in terms of how to connect them back to human interactions. When you get to know someone a bit better than your initial reaction, generally you only get to know the best sides of them. They probably still maintain some sort of a “good first-impression”, and you may be blinded to any faults they have deep down.

But that’s when the twist finally reveals itself- and by twist, I mean the twisted roots that reveal a less-than-perfect start. Harsh weather, unnatural harm, and other ravages which all lay seed for new life. We all hide such a knotted past, to some degree. Whether it is a major family trauma, the loss of a loved one, a broken heart, or a near-death experience, we are all haunted by our own ghosts. Sometimes, one masks it so well, no one would ever be privy to it without being otherwise informed.  However, most of us bear our scars at least somewhat visibly.  They may fade and warp with time, but at the end of the day, like in the case of this tree, they can only be found at the base of new growth. This is where the heart of the picturesque lies- it is in the imperfections, the cuts, the broken branches, and in the unexpected upsets.

 So what does it mean, to see the forest for the trees? I think it means to see the big picture, by appreciating the little details. Only when you take a step closer can you see what made up the view from afar, really.


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