How Small Becomes Large

Sometime during my year of thinking and seeing small, I began taking photos of beauty within decomposition. I’d focus on rust on crumbling metal pipes and fences, peeling paint and cracks on dilapidated buildings, tiny holes in stucco, lichen of all colors on rotting wood. Of course, I was aware of the connection between my new-found esthetic and seeing small, but it’s only recently that I have come to understand just what happens when I set myself to seeing small in this particular way.

Early on, I found solace in my new-found ability to see a moment of beauty within a scene of decay. Neglect has always saddened me, whether it be the front garden of a house I pass, its earth cracked and dried, overgrown with weeds gone to seed; or a home with peeling paint, cracked and trash-strewn walkways, windows obscured by shrubs gone wild. By seeing small, I was able to zoom into bits of beauty within these larger scenes of decomposition and neglect, so that I was no longer saddened. Instead, I found myself discovering so much unexpected beauty in the world around me.

Since I’ve been in France, I’ve been photographing old doors and windows, their paint peeling and wood often rotting. Doing this for several weeks, I’ve discovered a new perspective. Instead of immediately seeing neglect, I perceive old and worn. I see something that has served its particular structure—be it a house, a barn or a shed—for many years, enduring rain and lightening, heat and cold. I see the rotting wood and peeling paint as signs of wear and tear, not neglect. As symbols of hard work and long hours of labor, like the farmers and peasants who once lived in the houses and worked the fields.

I see what I photograph as a small moment in a long and large history of living closely with and on the land. As something both small and large at the same time. As both isolated and part of a much larger whole of culture and time.

In this way, at least here in France, seeing small, has led me to seeing much larger than ever before. In the past, though I might have viewed the shutters I was photographing, with their rotting wood and peeling paint, as lovely, I in no way viewed them as part of something as noble as the long line of peasants who lived on and cultivated the fields where these structures are located.

What all this is demonstrating to me is that small isn’t really small at all. Of course, I’ve always known this. But I am only now realizing just how small can show me the way to large. And at the same time, how much larger my vision can become than I might ever have imagined.

All this because of one dried sycamore leaf curled on the sideway several years ago!

Window, Puy L’Eveque

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