The Gaze

I’m not a great street photographer, mostly because I hate taking photos of people’s faces without asking permission. So when I take photos that would fit into the street photography category I’ll often show with their backs to me.

We often equate of the “back of someone’s head” with a lack of attention, or consider it uninteresting. I find it fascinating, because I’m wondering where my subject’s attention is. They aren’t looking at me, and I can’t capture their expression to give my subject’s an emotional context. I can only frame the photo in a way that tries to interpret my subject’s focal point.

Such is the case in the image below, which I’ve developed in both color and black and white 1. The couple on the bench is looking out over the river but, rather than relaxed, their posture is almost pensive – especially the man on the right. Framed between them is a young woman, perched on the breakwater. She’s not taking in the scenery, but is looking down as the wind blows her hair. The photo leaves me wondering if there a conscious connection between these three people. Or does the gravity of human presence causing the couple to lean toward the presence of another person who appears melancholy?

As I’m writing this on Good Friday this vantage point also reminds me something about the Christian faith. Christians do look to Jesus as our savior, the conquerer of the oppressive powers of sin and death, this is why the most recognizable Christian symbol is a cross. And yet, it seems if we want to be on the path of understanding Jesus we almost need to look at him from behind. That way we can see where he has fixed his gaze. Throughout his life Jesus looked to his Heavenly Father in loving obedience, and toward humanity as those he came to free 2. Leading up to his Passion, his eyes were on Jerusalem, and the service he would render on the Cross. Jesus’ disciples would do well to keep these three foci in mind.

Three people form a triangle as they gaze upon the river.
Panasonic G7 with 14-42 mm lens • 29 mm • ISO 200 • ƒ/6.3 • 1/640 sec
Three people form a triangle as they gaze upon the river.
Panasonic G7 with 14-42 mm lens • 29 mm • ISO 200 • ƒ/6.3 • 1/640 sec

  1. I would have moved closer, which would have taken the flag pole out of the frame. I didn’t because (a) I’m a chicken, and (b) I was pushing Bump in a stroller and didn’t want to leave him in the road. 
  2. Though, he did sigh heavily at us. To me this makes the story of the Gospel more believable. 

2 Thoughts

  1. I am also mindful of the Trinitatian nature and positioning of the three persons in the photograph. Thanks for this visual and thoughtful meditation.

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