I was watching Derek Sivers’s first TED talk this morning, and in it he mentioned a really interesting difference between the West and Japan. In the West, we name our streets. The blocks are just the “empty spaces” between our streets. In Japan, however, the streets don’t have names – the blocks do!
This amusing comparison generated an ah-ha moment about our Western values. In the comments on Derek’s website where he posted this video, someone says “…we tend to pay attention to and give value to the things we name, and to ignore what we consider spaces.” In America, we value going places and doing things…so we name the streets that embody that movement. Our culture tells us: It’s never enough to be where you are – you have to go somewhere else because it’s better over there!
But if we pause to reflect, we realize that everything that’s important happens in the “empty spaces” between our streets. That’s where our homes and our families and our delicious coffee shops are. All that’s really important is in the space between what we name. And so it is with life.
I was reading Eric Kim’s Photography the other day, and in it he asks the question: Do your photos show your soul? I don’t know if I’ll ever have a great answer to that, but I have been working to create more photographs that reflect my core values and beliefs about the world. I want my images to represent my philosophies on life, so I’ve been working to integrate this concept of the importance of “empty spaces” into my photography. When I pause to create an image with a great deal of negative space, I usually find that one of two things happens: I’ll be awakened to the fact that the “empty” space actually contains a lot of interesting detail or I’ll discover that the empty space reinforces the subject in a calm yet powerful way.
I have no illusions that my images (or my rambling words accompanying them) will have a profound impact on how others see the world. But if they can prompt you to pause and appreciate the little empty spaces between what we call our lives just a little bit more often, I’ll consider them a success. 🙂