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Why I Shoot Windows

Why I Shoot Windows

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.

The shadow of a tree plays across the exterior wall of an old brick building. Paint is peeling from the bricks, and the blue sky is reflected in two small windows.
“Window Eyes” – a dilapidated block building in Northern Florida with peeling paint and blue “eyes” but a shaded “nose” with the eyes “seeing nature inside.”

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.

“Offset Panes” – Symmetrically half-broken cabin window, alternating outside light reflections with inner darkness.

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.

“Jamaica Table” – British lord’s table, northern coast of Jamaica. Like some darker inner secret being pondered while looking out at the bright world, framed high and round.

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.

“Cloud Backs” – Futuristic hi-rise in Atlanta showing us what is behind us.
“Serenity” – Windows inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple, Oak Park, IL. The colors, the light, the repetition, all provide a strong sense of solitude and safe harbor.

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.

“Floating Bottle” – Most viewers notice the creepy dolls. But what is coolest to me is that the bottle (shadow) is floating. At first glance, it appears to be resting on the top of the bottom window. Actually, it is suspended by (clear) microfilament and is hanging behind the plane of the window. So the shadow appears to be floating. That said: the dolls are creepy.

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).

“Blue Window” – an abandoned and overgrown single-wide trailer, its air-conditioner still hanging in the wood-paneled wall, backlit by the late-afternoon sun, its front appearing blue in the waning light.
“Three Planes” – on the upper level “roof” of the Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga, TN, where we can see what is before us, what is on the other side of the window, and the mountains behind us reflected up top.

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.

“Studebaker Champion” – Abandoned in the woods, this 1954-ish Studebaker was left to rust and rot in the pines, but its frosted windows reflected its memories of brighter times.
“Kudzu Window” – Near Taylorsville, NC. This building had no roof, only the brick walls were still standing. Being in the South, the place had been entirely taken over by kudzu, where it spilled out of this window in a cascade of green strangulation.

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.

“Limb in Old Hole” – Mayo, FL. Probably a small factory at one point, this two-story had surrendered its roof, but the walls stood strong even as trees were growing up inside. The open upper window perfectly framed a top limb once I found the right angle.
“Through the Broken Blocks” – Little remained of this North Florida building. These glass blocks had been attacked by vandals—with varying success; glass blocks are tough—but offered a frame and a glimpse of what was behind the façade, of what it was thinking.

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.”

“Peering Through” – from outside a curtained window, through a now-uninhabited room, to the outside world beyond.
“Window in a Window” – looking through and past the cobwebs to the blurry “other side” that we may or may not find or know.

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.

“The Beckoning” – Sharecropper’s cabin in N. Florida. Beadboard walls, pine floors, an empty space, a cluttered room, and the glow of promise “from beyond.”
        “Self-Portrait, 2017”

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