Photo of my parking garage taken October 28, 2020, at 7:31 p.m. (thank you, iPhone, for keeping such good records😄), after office staff had left for the day. Usually there would still be plenty of cars here belonging to profs teaching night classes or, like me, heading home later than the university’s office workers. But most people are teaching from home now other than those with lab classes, so I had this striking view of an entirely empty parking garage. I park in space Number One in the farthest corner, and although I was weirded out by the spooky emptiness as I walked to my car, it wasn’t till I was stowing my gear in the trunk that I realized how entirely empty it was.
And also, oddly, how aesthetically pleasing all that emptiness was. I was suddenly quite aware of how balanced the composition of slanted lines and planes was. There was balance even in the oppositional pairings of light and dark elements.
This garage would surely never win any awards for appearance. It’s not an especially attractive place and might be best described as “functional.” Although it’s always very clean (MSOE’s facilities crew is amazing!), and it has been painted and otherwise well maintained, let’s face it: It’s hard to brighten up what basically amounts to a dungeon.
But then again, sometimes lucking into the right lighting and perspective after extraneous clutter (i.e., parked vehicles) has been stripped away is all you need to perceive the “rightness” of a thing’s essential underlying structure. Which is very cool and always makes me think about God and the universe and all the really huge stuff that puts us humans in our place. It’s a paradox that never ceases to fascinate: how we can be so puny and insignificant against the massive scale of eternity yet at the same time be so present and central to the drama of our daily existence.
I guess this paradox is a bit like an optical illusion in the way it moves back and forth from inside to outside (emic to etic?) perspectives. And optical illusions are a lot like photography in general, now that I think about it. Multiple “realities” are out there, but the one you usually notice is shaped by ordinary lighting and perspective and probably some sort of already-present internal template.
Maybe what makes a really good photo is similar to what makes an optical illusion stand out. Right? That pleasure you feel when you recognize that there’s more going on than you initially realized and you can experience both realities at once.