(Im)perfection

A recent post by nature photographer Ed Lehming sparked comments about perfection: Did a blemish on the stem of an otherwise “perfect” lily somehow diminish it?

There is a tradition among Tibetan Buddhists called beginner’s mind in which meditation practitioners attempt to view the world free of preconceptions and judgements, to see things as if for the first time. To see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Beginner’s mind frees us of expectations — and what is perfection if not an expectation?

It is also a sharp sword. Our world — and our lives — are in constant flux. So how can the definition of perfection possibly remain unchanged?

Photographer Viktor Rakmil posted two slightly different photos of the same bird on his blog and asked viewers which they thought was “best.” Which got me thinking: do we make choices based on some immutable criteria or on our own limited perceptions?

Perfection is illusive. Do we buy Canon or Nikon? (Or maybe Sony?) DSLR or point-and-shoot? Do we use a tripod or not? Full sun or shadow or backlighting? Macro lens or extension tubes?

Perfection is poor food. As we dine on indecision and frustration, procrastination joins us at the table.

The saguaro cactus is an icon of the Sonoran Desert. It’s often pictured as a tall beacon, 2 or 3 arms stretching gracefully upward, silhouetted against the sky. But who decided that’s what a saguaro should look like?

Saguaros show us just how messy life is. Cut, chopped, bruised, beaten, eaten, shot at — that’s the reality of desert life for this cactus. I’d rather capture the saguaro’s diversity than search for someone else’s definition of what it should look like.

And so it goes. We can choose bland sameness — in our photos, our words, our lives — or we can search for richness, reflecting our own impressions to the world.


Saguaro cactus   Carnegiea gigantea

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8 thoughts on “(Im)perfection

  1. If you haven’t seen my current post, the poem there makes the same point in its concluding line: “What is, is good enough.” And some time back I wrote about the joys of imperfection. “Perfection” is a construct — or, in the case of many photos, a good bit of airbrushing!

    I’m as fond of symmetry and such as the next person, and I love when it naturally appears. But your saguara show just how interesting reality can be — not to mention the life force!

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    1. That single line sums it up for me. I’ve strived for “perfection” in many aspects of my life (it seemed a worthy goal) but I finally realized it’s impossible. Despite my best efforts the finish line keeps moving so I try (not always successfully) to content myself with what I’m able to do at the moment. “Better” may be just around the corner but for now, to quote you, “What is, is good enough.” Thanks for that lovely reminder. 🙂

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  2. An excellent post, with much to think about and a shining example of imperfection. I wished I could spend weeks or months in the desert instead of a few days when I was last in Arizona, so I could document and study some of the crazy forms I saw – just of Saguaro’s! It was unbelievable, and endlessly fascinating.
    I especially liked the perfection is poor food line – that hits the mark very colorfully.
    Here’s to imperfection, which is simply perfect!

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    1. I hope you get your wish, Lynn. When we decided to spend our winters on the desert I imagined boredom would soon overtake me. How wrong I was. The Sonoran desert is an amazing place — lush vegetation filled with plants and animals that sometimes defy reality. Each time we’ve gone back I’m overcome with a feeling of coming “home” — an odd feeling for someone born and raised with foghorns and salt air. It’s definitely a “heart spot” for me. Imperfectly perfect, as you would say. 🙂

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