In a distant village, a long time ago, there lived six blind men. One day the villagers announced, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”
They had never seen or felt an elephant before and so decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” And thus they went down to the village to touch and feel the elephant to learn what animal this was and they described it as follows:
“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.
“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” argued the second after touching the tail.
“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” the third man spouted after touching the trunk.
“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man feeling the ear.
“It is like a huge wall,” sounded the fifth man who groped the belly .
“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man with the tuskin his hand.
They all fell into heated argument as to who was right in describing the big beast, all sticking to their own perception. A wise sage happened to hear the argument, stopped and asked them “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.”
The wise man then calmly said, “Each one of you is correct; and each one of you is wrong. Because each one of you had only touched a part of the elephant’s body. Thus you only have a partial view of the animal. If you put your partial views together, you will get an idea of what an elephant looks like.”
In the world of psychology, the Fundamental Attribution Error refers to the fact that when other people fail, we believe it is due to who they are, but when they succeed it is based on things that happen to them.
Correspondingly, we believe the opposite about ourselves – our successes are based on who we are and our failures are based on the things that happen to us.
This fascinates me: the idea that we fundamentally misunderstand all the ways in which both who we are and what we experience play into the successes and failures in our lives.
I think it goes beyond that: not only do we misunderstand our successes and failures, we don’t understand ourselves at all.
When it comes to understanding ourselves, we, and all of the people around us, are like Rumi’s blind men describing an elephant – at best we understand just a small part, and all of the people in our lives understand a small part, and it’s only when we put all of those pieces together that we start to understand anything.
As I was considering that idea and thinking about representing it photographically, I came to realize I would need more than a single image to do so, to represent the different views at play, so I knew I needed a series. I also realized that, even as a series, it needed to represent the duality of these ideas, and I decided that a series of diptychs made the most sense as the format for these images.
I was also inspired by the model for this series: she enjoys the “bokeh balls” of light, and that was the final piece, the element that served to obscure and distract, the pieces we put into the blank spaces when we don’t understand, both in the world around us, and within ourselves.
On a technical note, each of these images is a single exposure taken with a Sony a7.