A Forced Perspective

Last year my B and I built a small model railroad together. it was a great
winter’s project that turned out well, and we had a ball doing it. In the process
I discovered that B built and painted small ( HO scale) buildings very well.
Her crowning achievement was a sliver mine with an out building. The
model came in a small box with a bunch of match stick and toothpick-looking
pieces of wood inside. She magically transformed it into the mine you see
here, complete with painting and “aging” its look. Funny what new things you
can learn about a person when you do something together…







I was cruising the web the other day, checking a site that an old and dear
fiend has put up, on the building of his large model railroad. It is probably the
most complex layout for an N scale train that any of us have ever seen. The
detail is incredible… realistic mountains, lakes and streams, little towns. My god,
his towns have everything except water & sewer! He is so meticulous, and it
is so well thought out… truly amazing and speaks volumes about the person
building it. This friend is also a published author, a gourmet cook, a very
successful business man, and probably the ambassador to Spain, though he’d
never admit to any of this.

While reading his explanation of building one of his mountains, a phrase
caught my eye that has stuck with me in the past few weeks. “Before I add
my trees, I like to install a few strategically-placed trees to help me execute
the forced perspective.” Wait, what? the “forced perspective?!”

Then, “These represent the largest trees and shrubs in any given area, and
I can use them as a guide to size the surrounding trees and other greenery.
Also, although I did not do it here, I often give the smallest and most distant
trees and shrubs just a hint of gray over-spray to add to the illusion of distance.”







Well, first of all, how did I ever live so long without knowing about the concept
of a forced perspective? Perhaps I did live in a cave. Finally slipping by that
disturbing thought, it occurred to me that I’d just been given what I consider
to be a huge lego part… a part that I can build a hundred different designs and
ideas from! Oh, the possibilities! A Forced Perspective…!

A week or so after my “new discovery” I’ve realized it’s not as easy to translate
to other areas as I first thought… not for me, anyway. In order to utilize it, i
first had to understand it. Perspective, according to Wikipedia, (which might
also be an example of a forced perspective) “is a technique which employs
optical illusion to make an object appear farther away, closer, larger or smaller
than it actually is. It manipulates human visual perception through the use of
scaled objects and the correlation between them and the vantage point of the
spectator or camera. It has applications in photography, filmmaking and
architecture. Okay, I get that. But how about an application beyond filming,
photography and architecture? Then, the most useable explanation i could
find on “perspective” was “a point of view.” Well, that’s a start.

As with many new ideas, it’s easy for me to be sarcastic about its supposed
meaning rather than work a little to get to the bottom of the idea. And so I
started with thinking of most of our media today as a forced perspective. But
surely there have to be ideas and situations in my life that the understanding
of a forced perspective would bring clarity to. For me, making things look
farther away than they actually are, or closer, for that matter, suggests some
sort of trickery of one’s perception of distance. Let’s suppose for a moment,
just for fun, that a forced perspective might consist of very broad (and possibly
distorted) view of a thing… say a currant event that can be duplicated in
ancient history. For me this gives rise to the possibility of giving us a clearer
view of the present with the help of a forced perspective of the distant past.
Could this possibly be a positive, productive tool for clarity on an issue if used
with integrity and purity of intent? Hell yes… clarity on anything is usually good,
even when occasionally “forced.”

Anyway, you can see that, after my initial excitement about the concept, I’ve
been struggling with it ever since. Perhaps one of my problems with the
idea is that a forced perspective can be a weapon, can be a lie, can be
destructive in the wrong hands. Honesty and the desire for accuracy are
essential if a forced perspective is to be a helpful and positive tool in the
perception of, well, anything!

I did manage to have a little historical fun with my skewed version of a
forced perspective. Have been watching a Netflix movie about the life of
Henry the eighth, called The Tudors. Somewhere, deep into the story, I
suddenly got a great wide overview of the strange history of our civilization
in the last 500 years. Being able to look at our world from Henry’s time, i
suddenly imagined a conversation that is still as real to me today as it was
that evening. Two lords (or whatever they were back then) were standing
in the shadows of a big hall, watching the king and his court party and
dance. One turned slightly to the other and asked, “Do you see any end to
this struggle between the church and the throne?”

“Actually, no,” the other replied. “Rather, I think one could see it at as an
on-going difficulty that endures from generation to generation, each being in
a power struggle to protect their own turf, while trying to gain any leverage
and advantage from the other.”

“Yes, but do you see it continuing on in this manner? As our population
increases and new kings come and go, wouldn’t the changing times dictate
changes in our human behavior, and therefor our perception of differences
between government and religion?”

“Ah, my friend,” the other smiled. “Therein lies the rub. Countries may
change, governments will certainly change, the way we now think and live
will certainly change. But man’s human nature, by my view, is now and
will remain stuck deeply in the mire of power and greed. We have seen it
for hundreds of years already, and, try as I might, I see no end to this basic
flaw in our human nature. We know that, as our population increases, our
needs become more painfully evident, as do our evils and wickedness.
Our growing populous will serve only to prove further what we already know…
that we are a destructive force in large numbers, and cannot govern ourselves
in a rational manner. This dance of destruction between the church and the
crown will continue on, doubtless in many different versions and many
different countries, but always with the same evil intent… power and greed.”

And so, using my imagination to be in King Henry’s time and looking into
the distant future (say, 500 years) using my new toy of forced perspective,
I see a huge country, population in the millions, who fly around the globe
and live in a luxury unimagined in Henry’s time. And, wait… do I also see
what our friend warned us of? Are the lines between church and state
still blurred? Is that strange new culture still fighting, lying and killing each
other for the same reasons we now suffer under Henry’s rule? And look…
look how many times that scenario has repeated itself in that 500 years.
Don’t they document these events? Don’t they see what they’re doing?
Can’t they learn from it??

And that’s as far as we need to go on that train of thought. It doesn’t really
matter if I’m properly utilizing a forced perspective here or not… at the
worst I’m using a different point of view to see some of our history in a
different light. Now if I could just like what I’m seeing… but alack and alas!
All I get from this little exercise is a clearer understanding of where we are
in the world of government and religion today. Funny what new things you
can learn from looking at a model train layout with a forced perspective…

Steve Hulse

2 Replies to “A Forced Perspective”

  1. and…just so the forced perspective is not an unbalanced perspective,.don’t forget to spend a little time dwelling on the truly wonderful things that have occurred in those five hundred years…and the millions of gifted, humble and giving people we have been blessed to have among us…the vast majority of whom have lived honorably, working to make a honest living, raising their families to have better lives than they….starting nary a conflict or war….and many of whom have spent the blood, sweat and tears of their lives creating spiritually uplifting music, art, literature…even political opportunities that benefited millions of people they didn’t even know… i.e. the founding fathers of this country. five hundred years ago the population of the world is estimated to have been 400-500 million. that is a pretty big bell curve and the extremes are way out there…not as far as today with 7 billion…but still pretty far out there. it would be quite surprising if out of that 400-500 million (or today’s 7 billion) there weren’t some people with evil intent, focused on power and greed. good news does not sell…so i don’t expect to the news to provide a balanced perspective…but that doesn’t prevent me from looking for it.

  2. Brilliant.
    And a good read.
    Loving the photo in your trapper hat.
    My first introduction to forced perspective was a tour at Disneyland and the explanation that Walt used it in designing his Main Street buildings. Much like a movie set.
    And much more enjoyable to contemplate than our church vs state situation.
    I have high hopes for the upcoming generation to help set things right.

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