A dose of perspective

Things are getting pretty real.

Next week is my last week of college classes. The week after is my last finals week. That weekend is graduation.

It’s a terrifying time, definitely putting the last four years of my life into perspective — a perspective that is about to totally change.

So when I was scrolling through my Instagram feed today, I wasn’t surprised that I got stuck on Nuno Assis.

Assis is an architect living in Macau — one of China’s administrative region — who I found on one of those “12 people you should follow on Instagram” lists I turn to whenever I get annoyed with yet another picture of a well-lit cocktail from a subpar restaurant. I liked his work immediately, enjoying how he plays with geometry and scale. But today, I stumbled upon his image of a sky in Seac Pai Van, Macau, and was taken aback.

Nuno Assis

It’s a simple picture, showing high-rise buildings demarcating the sky with jagged edges. The pale blue mass above is trapped, reigned in by these man-made creations.

The image itself is gorgeous. Assis composed the shot perfectly, taking full advantage of the geometry of the situation. The snapshot takes the mundane and gives it life and interest. I am a firm believer in the importance of perspective in photography, and Assis plays with it masterfully.

Today, the image was exactly what I needed. My future seems like the blue expanse of the sky: unknown and unbounded. The possibilities are exciting and also frightening. But for now, I have a path. I have an internship for the summer and an idea of what I want to do after. These plans are giving me the security I need, structuring my journey much like the high rises in Assis’ image give structure to the otherwise limitless sky.

His other pictures are similarly geometric, often placing people in the midst of grand architecture that leaves them dwarfed. He never goes for the obvious, always drawing the viewer’s attention to a detail he or she probably never considered.

Looking up at the sky is a tricky task. Sometimes, it can be entirely overwhelming. It’s so obviously significant compared to our fragile, tiny selves. But then, the sky contains everything possible, anything we can or will be. It blankets our every move, protecting us from what lies beyond.

On the brink of perhaps the greatest change in my life so far, looking up at the sky as Assis found it gives me comfort. I don’t know quite what I’m looking for, but it’s out there somewhere. All I have to do is find it.

Women hiding in plain sight

I guess I’m on a little bit of a photo-project kick lately. I keep finding thought-provoking photographs online that thankfully distract me from opening yet another Facebook tab. Maybe this is growing up?

Today, I stumbled upon a beautiful series by Hossein Fatemi for The New York Times. As is typical for the paper’s Sunday Exposures, “Veiled Truths” is gorgeously photographed and smartly designed.  It depicts Iranian women through the fabric of a hijab, a head scarf that some Islamic groups require women to wear in the presence of men.

At first, I was struck by the beauty. The link opened on a full-screen image of an impeccably made-up woman in a hijab behind a film of red. The piece’s title cuts across her neck in a slash of bold white, seemingly separating her from the outside world. Her defiant expression is far from helpless — more like detached.

"Veiled Truths"

She and the women who follow look like dreams, caught behind a film of tradition and expectations. By showing them behind hijabs, Fatemi makes the statement that these women are rendered unreachable by mere pieces of fabric. Interestingly, most of the hijabs match the women’s makeup or outfits, depicting the garb as an extension of themselves. They are not complete without it.

Of course, some of the women choose to wear hijabs because of their beliefs. However, the other women are forced to live lives clouded by their government’s views.

"Veiled Truths"The text explains the project was inspired by Fatemi’s friend who was held by police in Tehran because she wasn’t wearing a hijab, which is required in the country. She told him he shouldn’t just take war photographs but should show what life in modern Iran is really like. Though Fatemi explains that Iran’s new, more moderate president has said that women should be encouraged by education to follow clothing policies, women still face police action for their defiance.

Fatemi uses powerful imagery to show the reality of these women’s lives. He uses the fabric of the hijab to represent the governmental control that denies the women of Iran the right to choose to whom they reveal themselves. I have read about hijabs many times over the years, but this series really drove home the experience for me. The title says it all: These women’s true selves are a mystery, shrouded behind a collection of thread.

Capturing humanity in the passing of time

What happens after we’re gone?

It’s a question that plagues generation after generation. Humans have always been concerned about the legacy we’re leaving behind. Will we be remembered for more than global warming? Will our contributions matter to anyone but our relatives? Will the people we respect miss our presence?

It’s hard to know, but photographer Romain Veillon makes a beautiful stab at it.

"Sands of Time" by Romain Veillon

The artist spent a week in a town called Kolmanskop in the Namibian desert. Now abandoned, the village was once home to German diamond miners who settled in the area in 1908. The article that led me to Veillon’s work explains that settlers said diamonds were so easy to find, they sparkled in the sand at night. The town grew and along with it, the accouterment of settlement: a bowling alley, a casino, an ice factory. The town hospital was home to Africa’s first x-ray machine, which Veillon says was used mostly to make sure miners weren’t swallowing their findings.

But with World War I came a decrease in diamond prices, and by 1954, Kolmanskop was abandoned.

Veillon’s series of photographs, titled “Les sables du temps” (“The Sands of Time”), shows the reality of the town as it now stands: A collection of buildings filling slowly with sand. Once brightly painted rooms are now peeling walls boxing in mountains of desert.

The results are hauntingly beautiful, dreamlike even. The play of light on the sand is almost welcoming, but it’s clear that humans are no longer welcome.

These works demonstrate that the fleeting constructions of man are no match for the quiet strength of nature. Though humanity has tried to impose its will in this quiet corner of Namibia, the earth — which has infinite time — simply outlasted the settlers and took back control.

At first, I thought the images were a little disheartening, a reminder that no matter how hard we try, we ultimately fade into irrelevance.

"Sands of Time" by Romain Veillon

Then, I went to Veillon’s website. He explains that to him, the photographs capture the inevitable passing of time. The fact that one day there will be nothing reminds us of the importance of enjoying life right now.

Maybe we won’t be remembered. Maybe our contributions won’t mean much. Maybe the people we respect will slowly forget us. But right now, we’re here, and Veillon’s photographs urge us to make the most of it.