And What They Tell Us About Ourselves
words and photographs Glenn A. Bruce
I find windows to be a fascinating study in how we see both our world and ourselves. For some reason I can’t precisely define, photographs of windows are evocative—sometimes calming, sometimes unsettling—but nearly always intriguing because they activate emotions deep inside our being. They show us a way back to ourselves.
Think of a windowless building. Unless it’s a Frank Gehry wonderment, the best it can hope to do for us is evoke a “Hmmm. Nice.” or “Interesting.” Because, I believe, as it is said that eyes are the windows of the soul, windows are our substitute eyes. I.e., we see windows as replacements or extensions of our own eyes, because windows allow us to see outside, just as our eyes allow us to see “outside” our own selves. But they also allow us to see inside.
Whether shot from outside-in or inside-out—or through (as in from outside, through a room, and then back outside again through a second window)—I find that windows in photographs are some of the most representational (and therefore evocative) photos of the world around us as it relates to the world(s) within us.
I have taken countless shots of windows from many angles. Some are direct, some indirect; some show reflections, some work because of the lack of reflection, and some become opaque because of their reflective nature; some are old, some are new; some are stories high, some are low and short; some give us a hint, some hide the truth; some show progress, some decay. Some don’t even have glass. But always, windows offer opportunities for thought and composition.
One aspect common to all window pics is that windows naturally frame…something: a view, a subject, or an idea. The nature of a window, that of a way of seeing out and seeing what, is naturally enhanced around a singular notion. Window frames provide focus for our attention and therefore our emotive impulses or cerebral considerations.
Because of this focus, each window photograph is its own story. Photographs should tell a story—good ones do, at any rate. Landscapes tell of nature’s domination and beauty; still-lifes speak to detail; urban architectural shots show us scale and impact. Each area of photography deals with an aspect of life and attempts to explain how it works, how it makes us feel—what it is (beyond the pictorially obvious).
Though I have shot plenty of new buildings with magnificent glazing, when it comes to window compositions, older is usually better. I liken this to the life lessons seen in a great black and white portrait of an old person, their wrinkles and sun damage—who they were and are. We can almost guess where they are headed.
And so it is for me that windows in abandoned or dilapidated buildings best characterize what I am trying to capture vis-à-vis my “windows of the soul” parallel to our eyes and what and how they see for us, what they frame and cause us to focus on, how windows tell us a story of what they were, what has happened in and around them, who has peered in or out, where they are today—and where we might be going: to ruin, rebirth, or eventual obscurity.
I especially like shooting a window through a window, across the inner sanctum through to, and out, the other side. It’s as if we are seeing into that room’s soul and
beyond to what that room—the person it symbolizes—sees beyond. We feel transported into and through a private space, a personal world, and back out to the tangible world beyond. Even better when we can’t see precisely what is on “the other side.”
In the end, whatever a good window photo makes us feel, most important is that it makes us feel something. That’s why I shoot windows.