Cultivating Attention

Photography cultivates a certain awareness and attention to detail. You walk on the street, all senses awake. There’s this detail here and that situation over there. You can see things developing into something that could be a good photo. You anticipate. You position yourself in the right place and wait for the right moment.

Sometimes (in fact, many times) that place was far from being the right one. And the right moment passed before you could react. Or never arrived. But the experience is still yours to enjoy. It wasn’t pointless.

Attention is probably one of the most undervalued capacities we have. I mean, we all use it in a rather rudimentary form. But what it can provide, if cultivated and developed, is nothing short of miraculous.

This week’s Lens-Artists challenge, hosted by Donna, focuses on Messages. I’ve chosen three moments, each with its own message. Obviously, the message can be expressed by a symbol, an image, or a text. But a message can be present in any given situation in the absence of obvious symbols, images or texts, once we understand that situation, know the context and attach meaning to it.

I’ve chosen to illustrate this point with three moments. All of them require a certain attention, patience and interest to notice the details, know the context, and reveal the story behind it.

The first one is from Budapest. It’s memorial right on the left shore of the Danube river. There are women’s shoes, men’s shoes and children’s shoes too. They sit at the edge of the water, scattered and abandoned, as though their owners had just stepped out of them and left them there. The memorial was built in 2005 and was conceived by film director Can Togay together with sculptor Gyula Pauer. It honour the Jews who were massacred by fascist Hungarian militia belonging to the Arrow Cross Party in Budapest during the Second World War. The victims were ordered to take off their shoes (as shoes were valuable and could be resold by the militia) and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away.

The second one is from Lisbon. Although the official patron saint of the city is St. Vincent, the most popular saint by far remains St. Anthony. It’s him that you will see represented on many old houses, for protection and good luck.

St. Anthony was born in 1195 in Lisbon. He is considered the patron saint of couples and he blesses weddings. He also protects amputees, animals, elderly people, poor people, oppressed people, expectant mothers, boatmen and fishermen, travelers, and harvests. St. Anthony seems to be the one everyone can turn to in times of need or despair and the same one everyone can celebrate in times of joy.

The third one is from the south of Belgium, at the border with France. This countryside footpath extending into the distance towards a farm is actually the border. Belgium is on the left side, France is on the right.

Funny little things these borders. Depending on where you find yourself in the world, you need the right documents to cross a border, and you may risk your liberty and life for crossing a border without the right permit. Sometimes, that permit is so hard to obtain that the only real options are to spend your life within those borders or to cross illegally. And what do you do when life within those borders becomes unbearable?

But here, close to Chimay, the place where Belgian trappist monks brew their beer, the border is just an administrative detail and a line on the map. The old customs premises are now abandoned, a message from a not so distant past. It’s a message about the power of human conventions, including political arrangements, about how to divide territories and people from one another.

17 thoughts on “Cultivating Attention

  1. I am so glad you have a blog to land your thought and photos somewhere. You have such a gifted voice and people need to hear you. Your exquisite photos are extra.

    I learned, this challenge really was about tapping into your senses, as you say. And I also realized it is a lot harder for some than I thought.

    I had heard of the memorial in Budapest. A powerful capture from you to have the roses, river and city in the background. It must be pretty moving to be there. I love the history you brought us about St Anthony, and the peaceful message of the border is uplifting. Thank you for joining. Again…beautiful messages come from your blog everyday. Well done

  2. Lovely photographs, the text does complement them very well. Except where Santo Antônio is portrayed, the meaning of the images would have escaped me… These are places I haven’t been to. This comes to reinforce my conviction that photos often need a little explanation or at least a meaningful title.

    1. Thanks, Alessandra. Yes, captioning is a skill I am still working on. Many of my older photos do not have captions apart from the place and year they were taken.

  3. Very beautiful and thoughtful choices this week Florin. I’ve seen and photographed the memorial in Budapest. I think it is the most effective one I’ve ever seen and am glad you were so moved as well. Also loved your closing image and thoughts.

Leave a Reply