I’m a fan of open space in just about any form—a big sky over a Kansas prairie or a big old kitchen without a lot of clutter- what my grandmother used to call swinging room. I also like to see open space in a photograph like the one above. It’s usually referred to as “negative space”, the unfilled area surrounding your main point of interest. If you have too much surrounding what you care about in a photo, the important stuff gets lost. Negative or open space gives a subject breathing room- it lets our eye rest on the main focus of the photo without any distractions.
I don’t think I had any particular message in mind when I took that photo. It was the smooth simplicity of the black pay phone box against the open textured white wall that caught my eye. But every time I run across the photo my eyes go straight to the phone box and its missing phone, and I find myself wondering about it. It feels like there is a deeper meaning hidden there somewhere. It wasn’t long ago that a pay phone was the only option we had if we were out and about and needed to contact someone. Sometimes it was hard to find one that worked. Then there was the worry about having the right change. When affordable cell phones entered our lives it felt like an amazing gift.
But as the basic cell phone evolved into a smart phone with all its attached social media, instant information, and ready access to just about everyone on the planet, we lost something precious - our personal open space, that distraction-free time that allows us to focus on what’s important. It seems particularly relevant this time of year as we dash headlong from one task to another.
Maybe life is a little like art. If we take a moment between tasks to reflect on what we just did, what we’re about to do, and why—is this worth including in our life, or is it just a distraction from things that matter?—life inevitably gets more meaningful. Serenity doesn’t have to come in big chunks of time spent on a peaceful beach. It can also come from small personal moments spent creating open space.
For more thoughts on serenity check out this post from Ohio photographer Eileen Critchley.