On the Beauty of Imperfection

A few years ago, I was perusing a photography magazine with a feature on how to take beautiful photographs of not-so-beautiful people. In the course of the article, a university study was quoted as demonstrating that people with completely symmetrical and slightly rounded faces were consistently chosen by participants as being the most attractive. Therefore, the article went on to say, we should photograph the subject in such a way that non-symmetrical elements are understated, and vary the angle and lighting such that the face appears more round.

Now, I’m not handsome by any stretch of the imagination, nor fashionable in the slightest. I seem to follow the Indiana Jones school of fashion sense, but much to the chagrin of my significant other, I bear no ressemblance at all to Harrison Ford. After reading the article, then staring at myself in the mirror, I was suddenly struck by the lack of symmetry and roundness in my face. I had never noticed it before, at least in the context of beauty (or my lack thereof). I then began to pay more attention to the features of the more aesthetically attractive people around me, noting that the article had some basis in truth.

But, I thought, is beauty a thing so shallow that following a few simple rules will allow one to calculate it?

I had always wondered what I found so alluring about bonsai trees. For a while, I was under the impression that here was a tree, in miniature, upon a table within a house, shaped not solely by nature but also by human intervention. Now, however, I think I understand better why bonsais, and most Japanese and Eastern art, appeal to me on a more fundamental level. It’s not about beauty in perfection, as proposed by the ancient Greeks, but rather in imperfection, especially that cultivated by nature. (And that includes ourselves.)

The Western World falls prey to the notion of living up to an impossible standard, wherein we strive to be gods and goddesses in our appearance, mannerisms, work and speech. No wonder we stress so much about how we look and conduct ourselves. Failing to achieve this impossibility serves to dash our egos, shake our esteem, and even colour the way in which we perceive others. It is a self-contained, self-perpetuating system that can drive us to despair, if we let it.

As usual, many people –far wiser than I– in the Eastern World have long ago seen the folly in this. The Japanese term is wabi-sabi (not to be confused with wasabi), and this idea descends from the teachings of early Zen masters. The three most important precepts:

All things are impermanent.
All things are imperfect.
All things are incomplete.

It’s not about spackling on the perfect face in the morning, or properly enunciating each syllable with the voice of an orator and the forethought of a strategist. Nor is it about outlaying each second to its proper task, or standing tall above the crowd, lest its mundane ways sully your air. It is the acceptance of humility, nature, and simple pleasures. It is the joy in a young child’s irregular smile, missing a tooth, or a refreshing sip of ice water on a sultry summer night.

Nothing lasts forever, nothing will ever be perfect, and nothing will ever be finished. I need to remember this.

There is something about spending time in the forest that makes me think of such things. Sitting on a fallen tree and stroking a faithful dog, listening to the swallows and watching the shadows dance across the ferns and moss, I feel like there is no difference between my self and my surroundings. The peace can be inhaled from the pure breeze and one’s stress melted away like snow in the warm sun. At times like that, it’s easy to find beauty in all the life around me… symmetrical or not.

Howe Forest

D*I*Y Planner Photo Release Kit

Hipster PDA Photo ReleaseWell, all those tales of photographers being sued for images containing the barely-recognisable faces of sue-happy individuals have instilled within me an unhealthy sense of paranoia. Seeing that I’ve been delving far more into photography lately, I decided to round up a few D*I*Y Planner templates to serve as photographic releases.

In this kit (a part of the forthcoming Creativity package), you’ll find:

  • Photographic Release (pocket form), in Hipster PDA 1-up, 4-up, and graphical versions
  • Photographic Release: Adult, in PDF 5.5×8.5 format
  • Photographic Release: Minor, in PDF 5.5×8.5 format
  • The adult and minor releases in an OpenOffice.org Draw source file (1.1.4 and up)

The pocket releases are for both adults and minors, and suitable for printing onto index cards, à la my Hipster PDA Edition. The adult and minor versions are also provided in a source file so you can modify them to suit your needs; this will allow you to insert your name, change the size (say, to A5), jigger the margins, or change the wording per the advice of your lawyer. If you want to use the OpenOffice.org file, please download and install the free Blue Highway font first, which is used for the title. (There is no public source file for the Hipster PDA variants, but you should be able to use the included OOo file to create your own with a bit of elbow grease.)

These templates differ somewhat from the usual D*I*Y Planner gear, but mainly for the sake of readability — remember, you want your model to be able to read and sign the form without any legibility issues. Aesthetics is a secondary concern.

These forms are based upon releases provided to Popular Photography (see original text here) by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). These templates are provided here simply as a courtesy, and all applicable rights belong to the original creators and owners: any objection to their distribution in this form by said owners will result in the withdrawal of this offering. As always, check with your lawyer before using any legal forms: they may not be valid in your area or for your purposes. There is no guarantee, implied or otherwise, that accompanies these forms, either on my part, or the part of Popular Photography and Imaging Magazine, or the ASMP.

Whew. In other words, use at your peril, and please check with your legal representative first. Remember, I am not a lawyer, nor do I claim any legal knowledge.

Download: D*I*Y Planner Photographic Release Kit 1

Feedback, especially from those with real legal opinions and knowledge, are quite welcome.

It’s Only Natural

Locksley at Gander Lake

Imagine my surprise when I learned that a local “demonstration forest” has scores of wonderful paths with plenty of placards explaining flora and fauna, as well as a very rough-hewn trail, miles long, that winds up and down through primeval and almost untouched landscape down along the side of a very large lake. The trail is covered by overgrown vegetation, large fallen trees, bog, moss, wildflowers, roots and rocks, and even animal tracks and scat. A couple of days ago, I took my faithful hound Locksley and meandered down to the rocky lakeshore, had a lunch, and then took some photographs of the flowers and landscape. It was very peaceful: not a man-made sound or sight anywhere. Mind you, the mosquitos along the way were hellish, but I like to think of the hundreds I inhaled as a little extra protein to help with the workout.

Continue reading “It’s Only Natural”

Jack Kerouac’s List of Essentials

Jack KerouacMerlin over at 43 Folders has a post about a wonderful site for writers called Language Is A Virus. It’s easy to get caught up in all the great mind-bending (and mind-freeing) techniques awaiting unwary visitors in almost every corner of the site.

One of the things Merlin links to specifically is a list of Jack Kerouac’s Belief and Technique for Modern Prose. I started falling in love with Kerouac’s books back in the last year of high school, and it was about this time that my writing really took off. I found this particular list in a book about the Beat Generation, lingering in a stack of library discards (the content was deemed “unsuitable”), and it spoke to me immediately and with such a voice as I’ve never heard. This single page has been my chief source of inspiration for creative writing for a long time, and I have carried around a tattered type-written copy of it now for 18 years.

I’m glad to see it revived for the digital age, when Kerouac’s work might be deemed “suitable” once more.