Nuance & Context

Earlier last month I had a chance to do a street crawl with our boy Nelle (JMNZN), where we explored the LES with our cameras. We’ve since then gotten a chance to go out wandering once again only this time, in the LWS (Lower West Side).

Like the first time, my approach again was to capture moments in such a way that gave the subject a “human element” — shooting in a way that personified the subject despite it being inanimate or not. However, as I was going through my camera roll it got me thinking — “What about them make them humanizing? “Why is it these particular shots speak to me?” And the answer is nuance and context.


It was then that I realized that the subjects of these shots, (this door, this sign) are all things that exist outside the rectangular frames of these photos — existing before I first saw them, and existing before the moment you’re seeing them now. (Stay with me here). Having perhaps walked past these things millions of times, it’s only now that I’ve really taken notice of them and their nuances. In thinking about it, I learned that nuances are the “what”. “What” is it about them? “What” are the little things about them that set them apart from others. The dripping of the paint, the half-lit sign, it’s the nuance of imperfectness that’s what makes it feel human.

Likewise, I also realized the importance of context, in which context is the “why”. “Why” is the door all tagged up? Maybe it’s because we all have a desire to be seen and heard by others and that’s why so many were driven to do so. “Why” is only part of the sign lit? Maybe it’s because we all struggle when trying to provide for our needs and that’s why the inside of the business is prioritized over the outside. Often, recognizing things in a scope of greater context is equally humanizing as well.

Looking back at 2014 and many of the year’s major events, much of it has been characterized by unfortunate tragedy. So much so, that it’s easy for us to have become cynical, disengaged and desensitized to it all. However, rather than turning it off or looking away, perhaps we (ourselves included), should be looking directly at it. Slowing down to notice nuances. Slowing down to connect things in deeper contexts — understanding the importance of “what” things are and “why” they are going on around us.

Together nuances and contexts breed empathy, and after all, empathy is what gives us our human element.

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