uite a few years ago a Japanese film crew came to the wheat fields surrounding Weston to shoot a segment for a popular soap opera in Japan. One of their most awe-inspiring experiences was being witness to the immense amount of open space we have in the Valley. I remember watching the actors and crew spending an unusual amount of time just spinning around in the warm summer air.
There was no sense of containment to earth and sky; just rolling fields of golden grain and an open canopy of blue sky uninterupted by towering buildings.
It took time to adjust but finally scenes were being framed and the shoot went off successfully.
Many years later I still marvel at their amazement and the unbound openness that we often take for granted. I've also come to realize the tangent importance of a frame to combat the overwhelming sense of too much going on in the surrounding world.
Open space - even when admired and familiar - can, much like the initial spinning around of the soap opera crew, produce a dizzying effect.
At some point the framing begins and we develop a tangible device to construct ideas.
I've used this framing process often. Recently, while in a hotel room in Spokane, I had the option of opening a window and photographing the city at night in all its panoramic splendor. Instead, I chose to shoot through the slotted framework of my half-open window blind. I saw a top and bottom vignette and reflections of neon lights on the shiny surface of the two bordering blinds.
By limiting my vision, I saw less - and more - at the same time.
Some frames are obvious.
Some are subtle.
Sometimes they can be actual window frames which hold subjects while opening up and connecting to the outside world.
Whether simple or complex they're good devices to hang our ideas within - and a fun and simple way to frame the unlimited expanse of what we see.
A History of Frames
The history of frames is as nebulous as what defines a frame itself.
Generally, though, they are rectangular in shape but can also be oval, heart-shaped or more abstract, such as a sport jersey. Most modern frames are designed to enhance, display or protect the work they border.
It has been generally acknowledged that the first frames were religious in nature with borders surrounding vase and tomb paintings some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago and later appeared on mosaics and panels and framing narrative scenes. Early Christian art incorporated frames in edgings of book covers and altarpieces. Some of the earliest known framed works were mummy portraits from the second century AD that were hung in the deceased's home before being added to the burial site.
By the 14th and 15th centuries, European churches were commissioning large, often immovable, works and altering the function of frames to be more than a decorative boundary. Objects held within the frames were now protected, emphasized and often given strong symbolic significance.
It wasn't until the Renaissance that framed works became smaller, more affordable and eventually available to a broader spectrum of the population - not just the wealthiest patrons of art.
Now, they're everywhere and very affordable.
Still, the unique practice of framing is a timeless experience.
History never registered it as even a footnote but somewhere long ago, or as children, we sought to manipulate our hands and view the world. We, by design or random accident, brought our opposable thumb-tip and index finger-tip together to form an early frame. Through that portal we gazed.
And the world we saw looked just a little different.