There’s that saying right, a picture is worth a thousand words? In light of my boredom and, no doubt decaying, essay skills, I decided to test this by setting myself a simple (?) challenge. Take the national geographic’s picture of the day and, using only it and any description of it given on the page, write a thousand words about it. #AThousandWordChallenge
At first sight, particularly when seen on a smaller scale this is a very distinctly polarised image; to such an extent that it does not seem to be real, but rather the construct of imagination and Photoshop. Of course when viewed on a larger scale the sailing boat reveals itself as do the textures so vivid that, somehow, they must be real. The top half (for it is almost an exact half) is sand whilst the bottom half is ocean so blue that, again, it must be real. And on a far smaller scale than the other elements of the image, is a small sailing boat. Rendered almost dark against the contrasting, yet equally bright, background, it is on inspection white. The hull and two sails are visible, billowing slightly in the wind which must be welcome in the heat of Arabia. It sits just below half way down and on the mid-left. It provides the only asymmetry in the image and as such (as well as because of its perceived darkness) it acts as the focal point of the image.
Whilst I have so far described the two sides on which the sailboat sit in contrast to each other, they stand equally startling and beautiful themselves. The sand, either that of a beach or desert, has an overall golden hue but has hummocks and ditches that despite being rendered in two-dimensions by the viewpoint and light provide changes in colour from pure white to mid-dark brown. Some of it also is green and the shallow parts of the seabed visible have its light blue hue added. The line separating it from the sea, although distinct, is not straight; it eddies in and out on an imagined current. The ocean below it has a slight gradient from light to dark, presumably from depth of the water and it covered all over in ripples. I do not call them waves for they do not have that pattern, although perhaps they contribute, the all over disturbances seem to me to be more as the result of the wind. The textures of the image combine not only in the physical sense of the eddying line but also in that they complement each other by being vastly different. They may have the same most basic of causes but the different mediums exhibit quite dissimilar patterns, one of regular colour and repeating block pattern and the other of varying colour and irregular patterns.
That this image is from the UAE, a country most renowned for Dubai and its glamourous cityscape, seems odd. Any other images we may form in our heads of this country are of endless deserts and heat but the unassuming simpleness of this image along with its apparent sea breeze do not fit with either of these notions. However, that a country so aridly empty would have such unfilled and unpresumptuous natural beauty, does not, upon reflection, seem too bizarre. Of course that is merely the larger context of the image, were one to imagine the smaller context they would have a harder time. What is this scene adjacent too, nothing? With it only chosen for its inclusion of a sailboat. Or perhaps a town or city? With it only chosen for its non-inclusion of anything but the sailboat. For now though let us consider such imaginings redundant and focus merely on the image and what it conjures.
To see a lone boat, so small against the ocean, adrift alone – even so close to land – always seems a little scary. It makes one think of shipwrecks and desert islands and poor sailors lost to the mercy of the sea. Unrealistic perhaps but a result of the culture we are raised in: Moby Dick, The Coral Island and Treasure Island. This certainly contrasts with the upper-half of the image, without context a mere beach but with it an entrance way into a whole different culture. Perhaps again as a result of the one we were raised in: Lawrence of Arabia and A 1001 Nights. Perhaps one of the only thing linking these two shared cultural ideas is their (as we know in the back of our minds) complete lack of reality – with the possible exception of Lawrence. This unreality could be linked back to the surreal quality of the image at first glance of the duelling colours. One final theme that could be noted is that of the elements; the earth and the ocean are clearly visible but also known are the fire of the suns light and the undulating pattern caused by the wind.
Moving on from the themes one can imagine the experience. To be on the boat is the most obvious, although in reality no figures can in fact be seen. To be cooled by the breeze filling the sails whilst sailing the boat along easy course. Although one could just as easily imagine being on the sand or in the ocean, the sand would be hot I suppose, with the water acting as blessed relief. Despite the closeness of these two different situations they are very different, one is privileged in its use of a boat raising oneself above the ocean and, indeed, the earth; meanwhile to be on the sand and in the water is far more immersively natural. But we must move away from such speculation and attempt to summarise what can be garnered from this image.
The two colours first viewed bring to mind the concept of duality which is not then escaped, it is seen again in the different textures, in the duelling reality versus expectations and in the two different experiences to be imagined. Each of these notions balance themselves and lend such a balance to the overall image meaning that despite the off-centre focal point, the spirit of the image is itself very centred. In addition to this the colours and implausibility that can be imagined from the image give an overall sense of otherworldliness surpassed only by the complete reality of the photograph.