Way of Seeing

Sitting in a car, I looked out of the window and saw this:

Seeing from the window
Shot in Guangzhou, China

Standing in solitude, the word “democracy” unequivocally stood out. The surrounding spacious background added to it a solemn accent, an invisible exclamation. There’s nothing extraneous other than the two characters, clean and profound.

In itself, this visually striking spectacle could safely be a street art, a protest wall, or a campaign billboard. It was a yelling value proposition, a stark antithesis to the reality where democracy is absent.

However, this was merely my interpretation by looking at the word in isolation. It was not the “full picture”, and unfortunately, we know what was. We know what it would look like when zoomed out—a soulless component of some 24-characters gibberish.

But the truth was rather not important, I would argue. Let’s ignore its immediate context and observe it from afar, from a larger context. The window was a frame, a perspective, it limited my purview of vision, whilst endowed me with a way of seeing.

What’s interesting is that it was at the same time a more narrow way of seeing and a broader way of seeing. It’s physically constrained, a de facto biased perspective, but it’s also placed, looked at, and understood in a larger context and narrative. This shift of context stripped away its original cultural absurdity, returned the power of defining the word to viewers.

It was also worth noticing that the lens I took was only valid at that time and from that position, it was transient and uniquely present.

Next time in a car, pull your face up from the glowing screen and look through the window frame. What will be your way of seeing?