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Ditching the Magic This Season

Sometimes it's not clear if a shadow is part of the perfection or part of the imperfection in a photograph. Maybe life is like that too.

Menka Sanghvi
Menka Sanghvi
5 min read
Ditching the Magic This Season
Photo of my garden table last week. Sometimes textures, shapes, patterns, lights and shadows are enough magic.

Table of Contents

Hello, Good Lookers,

It's Menka here, with the final Just Looking Letter of the year - a monthly newsletter that explores all things perception and mindfulness.

Last time I wrote about what reading does to our attention, and about noticing lichen as an example. A few days later a contemplative photographer on Instagram shared this wondrous image. I wonder how just knowing the word "lichen" helps us to lean in to beauty like this?

Photo by Terra Dumont. #wearejustlooking

Reminder: Those of you who have kindly joined the Friends of Just Looking, I look forward to speaking with some of you this evening in our annual meet!


On Ditching the Magic

Holidays, in all cultures, bring with them a slew of norms and expectations. Whether it's decorations, parties, or roasting chestnuts on an open fire, some of these routines and rituals can be uplifting, or grounding, nourishing, whereas others can feel like yet another source of pressure to do more. To be more.

"Holidays are now ‘seasons’ unto themselves, with performances and consumption habits and photos, the experience of which oscillates between joy and slightly numb obligation.”

- Anne Helen Petersen in her newsletter

Sociologist Dr Michelle Janning suggests the motivation behind many of our tiring efforts is an "imagined future nostalgia." This is when we picture ourselves or our children in the future, reminiscing fondly back to this time. In other words, we're investing in "making memories" rather than enjoying ourselves in this moment.

One helpful strategy could be to take a deliberate step back from Instagram, Whatsapp etc. during this time. Countless studies show that social media use is linked with increased feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depressive symptoms. It can make us feel like everyone's lives are enchanted, except for our own. And it can make us strive  even harder, in a direction not necessarily aligned with our own values and priorities.

Over the summer, a new generation of Google Pixel smartphones arrived with a feature called Magic Eraser. I really like this funny ad about why its needed. But the dark side is that this feature feeds our growing obsession with demonstrating perfection. For ourselves, for others, and for our future selves.

"The other day we took a picture of a dog, but my boyfriend is like, 'look at the ugly shadow there'. I'm like 'I can get rid of it'. All you do is outline what you don't want in the picture. And poof -- it's gone. It's called magic for a reason." (Google Ad)

"And poof -- it's gone". I wonder, what does the process of reviewing, tweaking, editing and perfecting of our images do to us over time? Does it make physical unmediated life, with all its messy, ugly, shadows appear lack-lustre and inferior? Does it make us want to spend more time on screens, where what we see is often brighter and shinier? Does it deteriorate our inner capacity to embrace imperfection?  

There's nothing new about editing our visual records. The current leap in computational photography has just accelerated the process so we can do it nearly instantly and effortlessly. In comparison, sitting on a computer many hours after an event, working with more complex editing software, is an effort that requires more clarity of purpose about what and who the edit is for. On our phones, it becomes an instinctive process.

The beauty (and the point) of bringing awareness to any part of our lives is to create distance. When we see it, we can wave, even smile at it.* We can notice how we feel when we've taken a dozen family photos but none of them are any "good". We can notice the tension in our shoulders as we attempt to wrap the awkwardly shaped present. And by noticing ourselves in these situations, we can relax a little. Because the thing to consider ditching is not the magic itself, nor the activities we do to create it, just our demands around it going perfectly.


Looking Exercise

Noticing (and challenging) our notions of perfection

Sometimes it's not clear if a shadow is part of the perfection or part of the imperfection in a photograph. Maybe life is like that too.

Photo by Jasmine Shaw. 

[As always, I'd love to see any of your images in response to this prompt. Or if you're on Instagram please tag them with #wearejustlooking so they land in the community feed.]


Mundane Halloween Costumes [See]
Every year I look forward to seeing these Japanese costumes. "Outfits so ordinary they have to be explained." Everyday art...

That person who brought their own bag to the supermarket but it wasn't enough. Costume and photo by @dosanko_madam
Person who booked a conference room but there’s someone in it and now they’re checking to make sure they actually booked it before knocking (@ssg_pr)

Clothes Line Poetry [See]
An Instagram account dedicated to the poetry of clothes lines.

Immensities [Read]
I'm excited about this new BBC Future series, by Richard Fisher, exploring why vastness and that sense of insigificance can feel good.

It brought a touch of discomfort, humility or even pain. When a mountain, storm cloud or waterfall diminished the self, it was a reminder of one's own vulnerability and finite existence, but felt safely at a distance.

Backyard Wildlife [Read / Listen]
What defines "wild" life... reading this essay reminds me that it's actually about control, or rather the lack of it.

Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards [See]
Speaking of wildlife, some of these are pretty amusing.

Ryan Sims' photo of a duckling waddling across a turtle-covered log at the Juanita wetlands in Washington state. {Ryan Sims/Comedy Wildlife 2022)

However you choose to make magic over the holidays, I hope you enjoy doing it imperfectly! Thank you for reading, and giving me this reason to reflect and write. Wishing you inner peace and courage, always.

Yours in curiosity,
Menka

For more:‌
Just Looking Website
Just Looking Instagram

*The Madagascar reference is not lost on me. I love it! Such a great motto for life: Just smile and wave boys, smile and wave.

Menka Sanghvi Twitter

I'm a researcher, writer, and designer working on the theme of mindful curiosity. Just Looking is a project I started to help myself and others slow down and experience more wonder in the everyday.


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