Posted on February 3, 2019 by Shoshana Raun
Walking around Jerusalem, I always look for small details. I love the wide views of the city walls, seeing the Old City from the tayelet, and sunsets over the western hills from the Pardes Beit Midrash.
Yet I focus on many small details. A red flower popping out from a white picket fence on General Pierre Koenig street. A weathered brass doorknob on a blue Derech Hevron gate. A bright yellow lemon on a tree branch backdropped by the black and white grid of an old street lamp.
I literally focus on these small scenes because I participate in an online photography community called 52Frames. Each week, I get an email with a photo assignment that is based on a technical skill or a visual element of photography and try to take a picture that features use of the skill or element. Then, like the thousand or so others who participate, I upload my best shot on the weekly theme to a group album.
I’m not a great photographer. But I am much less of a bad photographer than I was two years ago, before taking photos to submit a shot every week. This is partly because I can now control my camera settings with confidence, instead of just using “auto.” But mostly because I look at the small details around me with a different perspective. The spill of gold foil wrapped Channukah gelt on a brown desktop, a cat on a sunny red tile roof, the way waterdrops line up on fuzzy green lupine leaves. These are all real scenes I’ve savored for a moment. Photography has enhanced how I look at the world.
In this focus on the details, the tiny, mundane particles of a city, am I missing the bigger landscapes of life in general?
In photography, probably. In life, hopefully not. My other major project each week is studying Torah. I learn part-time at Pardes. Like photography, Torah has a vocabulary, rules and techniques. The essence of photography is all about controlling light. The essence of Torah is about everything under the light of the sun and the dark side of the moon and beyond. At Pardes, I focus on the wide view, like Creation; and on the details, like what do I do with the fruit my neighbor gave me right from his yard. I am a more confident Jew than I was when I came to Pardes nine years ago. And the process for improving knowledge in Torah and skill in photography is the same – just keep learning and applying what you learn.
My camera screen is tiny and lets me see only a fraction of the wider scene before me at any one time. The frame of Torah is infinite. As Ben Bag Bag said of Torah, “Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.” (Pirkei Avot 5:21)