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Letter Photography - Think

That-Man often tells people that the discussions (read “arguments”) in our relationship has evolved over time. When we met, he was still practicing law and his skills were - for obvious reasons - far beyond mine in this area. When we had a disagreement, we’d go back and forth, arguing our cases to each other. Usually, we reached a point where it was obvious that he had won the argument. Sometimes he was wrong, but he still won the argument. The only response i could think of then was: “Well, you’re a smoker.” That-Man still finds many opportunities to remind me of those days, but he’s also quick to point to the fact that i’ve learnt some lessons along the way, and these days i don’t have to resort to those kinds of tactics. Our relationship has reached the point where, even if we disagree about something, we’ll both ruminate on the conversation and eventually end up conceding to each other where we’ve been foolish. Thinking about life – both reflectively and in anticipation of the future – forms our inner beings and our very lives.

This brings me to “Think,” one of my favourite designs of 2015. When two devastating earthquakes struck Nepal in April and May of 2015, we designed a letter photography series for an auction to raise funds for victims of the earthquakes. “Think” was one of these.

Let’s start with “T”. This is part of a gate - what an extraordinary gate - which we found in the Vieille Ville (Old Town) of Lausanne, Switzerland. What balance between decorative detail and simplistic rhythm in the design. This is a copy of one of three gates that used to be found at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) of Lausanne from 1907 to 1975. According to a plaque next to it, this gate bears witness to wrought iron techniques that are no longer used. All of us know, of course, why we use gates. When it’s open, it allows people and traffic to pass through. But when it’s closed, those inside and those outside are separated by the gate. Isn’t it the same with our thoughts? Before you get the idea that i'm an either/or person, please allow me to continue this train of thought. When the gates of our thoughts are open, we allow ideas and concepts to enter and leave our consciousness. But when we’ve tested them all, we decide what to hold onto and what to let go. That is a good time to close the gates, wouldn’t you agree? Now, follow along with me to the next question: Were gates ever made to open once and close only once? Was it ever the purpose of a gate to remain closed? It seems improbable, to say the least. When an idea that has merit presents itself to the gates of our thoughts, it seems prudent to open our thoughts and test it, before deciding whether to keep or discard it. Sometimes it may even be necessary to invite that idea over for a few visits before deciding its fate. There is one more thing i want to add to the concept of gates. Gates are usually open for visitors during the day and closed at night. To me it seems only sensible to close the gates of our thoughts when we are not able to process new ideas. i think i'll let that one mull around in your thoughts.

“H” is a picture of moorings in Lac Léman in Ouchy, Lausanne. This functions in the same way as an anchor to a boat, keeping it in place despite changes in wind, currents and water levels. It allows the boat to stop at a particular place. The boat lies there waiting until the skipper returns, loosens the ropes and steers the boat to its next moorings. Sometimes our thoughts need a mooring; a place where we have rest and stability; a place we’re tethered to despite our circumstances. This seems to me to be our worldview. Our worldview determines our actions, independent of our circumstances. Whether we’re experiencing droughts or floods, cool breezes or gale force winds, and irrespective of popular opinion, our actions are determined by one thing: our worldview. This, of course, is formed by considering, measuring and either treasuring or discarding ideas by opening and closing the gates to our minds.

“I” is, quite fittingly, right in the centre of the word. This is a photo of one of the street lamps on Pont Neuf (New Bridge) in Paris. At night it shines its light so pedestrians and drivers can see where to go. In the same way our thoughts provide light for us so we can make decisions in difficult situations. It brings to light the facts of a case. It shows the weaknesses and strengths of an argument. It shows us the many roads available from our present location, as well as the potholes, twists and turns in those roads. Without light, we wouldn’t even know where we are when darkness falls, much less what surrounds us and how to find our way.

“N” is one of my favourite photo letters. It was taken in a village in Nepal, not far away from the Himalayas which dominate the natural skyline. Early one morning the mist was rolling through the Sunkoshi river valley, rising up through the wooded hills. It created the most magnificent sight of layered forests, fading away in the layers of mist. Mist forms when hot, moist air is cooled suddenly. This may explain one of the mysteries of thought. Once in a while you may be confronted suddenly with ideas completely opposite to what you once held to be absolutely true. Those may turn out to be some of the most pivotal moments in our lives, as two opposites react and form a new combination, and “Voila!” a fusion of sorts forms; a wonderfully simple yet versatile new idea emerges. This is basically the story of That-Man and i. Our ideas constantly seem to clash, yet sometimes they merge and react in a fusion of something more spectacular than either of us had had in mind initially.

“K” is one of the simplest letters in my collection and another one of my favourites. In 2014, i bought a new camera. Of course there is a learning curve with new equipment, and That-Man and i were seen all over town as we explored photo opportunities. One of Kimberley’s gems is Kamfersdam, a breeding site for lesser flamingos. This picture only includes two pipes, however. While we were walking along the shore of the dam, we noticed that these two pipes only form the letter “K” from one angle. If we’d taken this picture a few meters to the right, it would have formed an “II” instead of a “k”, which leads us to the question of perspective. A different phrase for perspective is “point of view.” One of the most extraordinary books i've ever read was on the prescribed reading list in my high school years: To Kill A Mockingbird. A quote that still lives within me is this: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Point of view or perspective is something that influences every single thought we have. In conflicting situations it is helpful to consider the other parties’ perspectives. This helps us to interpret the motives behind other people’s thoughts, words and actions, and only then can we start forming an idea as to how to resolve the tension.

“Think” was not designed with these interpretations in mind. As i've written this article, the significance of each of these letters have increased, and now i consider it in a whole new light.

Only four copies of “Think” are still available for sale.

Medium – Photo Paper

Size – 50cm x 30cm

Price (Unframed) – R2,900

Price (Framed) – R3,400

Other Articles in this series include:

Letter Photography - Karoo III

Letter Photography - F is for Funny

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