More geometry in photography


Obexer’s Boat Company, Lake Tahoe, California, 2016

by cheri sabraw

I never set the world on fire in mathematics. In elementary school and junior high, my placement was in honors math but barely. In other words, I provided for all those annoying whizzes a magnificent  “C” that adjusted the curve in their favor.

The only math subject that I liked was geometry. My teacher, Mr. Di Paola, was a great guy full of corny jokes.

He’d arrive in class with his leather briefcase and neatly cut black hair with a decisive linear part, perfect for his subject matter.

I’d notice, ” Gee, Mr. D., I see you got a haircut.” (Always the sycophant, perky little me…) To my compliment he would reply (while unpacking the stacks of proofs he had meticulously corrected), “Actually Miss Block, I got them all cut.”

I laughed out loud. Some of my classmates did too, but most of the other students were too busy checking their homework.

This joke repeated itself every month, for every month he had his haircut, and every month I chose to compliment him. I hoped my attention to his detail would weigh heavily on his mind, especially when he was filling in the bubbles on the grade sheet the night before grades were due.

Let’s see: Cheri Block. Nice kid. Hard-working. Earnest. On the border. B- or C+ ?

Once, after receiving a mediocre test score, I made the mistake of announcing to Mr. DiPaola (and the whole class) that I would never use geometry again in my entire life (I had a penchant for over-statement).

It wasn’t until 1985 when I was teaching American Transcendentalism that my grandiose statement to Mr. DiPiola entered  my mind like an old ghost and rendered me an immediate liar. As I drew three circles–one for God, one for Nature, one for Man–and intersected them into a Venn Diagram, I realized I had, in fact, used my geometry to illustrate what Mr. Emerson, Mr. Whitman, and Mr. Thoreau believed.

I was so taken with myself at that moment!  I deviated from American Transcendentalism and walked off the topic, deep into the woods of Euclidean Geometry. I regaled my students with the story of Mr. DiPaola, my flippant and ignorant remark, and alas, my average math performance.

That weekend, I called Mr. DiPaola, who was still teaching in the same district, to let him know that little Cheri Block, now 35 years old, had been (gulp)—wrong.

For some odd reason, I am now photographing geometric images. Mr. DiPaola is in his 80’s and I know his son, a geometry teacher in a neighboring district. I must let them know that I owe all of my recent interest in geometry and now, painting, to Mr. DiPaola.


Obexer’s Pier and empty slips after a fresh snowfall, Lake Tahoe, California, 2016



About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in My childhood, My photography, Writing and Teaching and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to More geometry in photography

  1. Richard says:

    By far my favourite picture is the last one, the one with the human footprints advancing and retreating for a better, wider perspective – the story of the great art of geometry itself. What is it, human, divine or worldly?

    Mr di Paola’s lessons were not as clear-cut as his hairs, nor his delight in splitting them.

    A very funny lesson, packed with meaning and graced with meticulous black and white photographs that reveal a colourful imagination.

    Brrrrrrrr! Hurry back to a warm log fire!

    • Cheri says:

      Great comment, Richard. And aren’t you observant! Those are my footprints in the last shot. I walked out with my camera and then wondered who would know if I slipped into the frigid lake, so I backed way off. I wish I could tell you my decision had something to do with the camera lens and angle…

  2. Brighid says:

    Oh, I like all of your photos, and the story. You must have always been a character.

    • Cheri says:

      Thanks Brighid. And yes, I think it a fair statement to say that I have always been a character…although now that I am all grown up, I am usually on my best behavior. 🙂

  3. potsoc says:

    I dig your photos but never dug geometry and still hate it.

  4. wkkortas says:

    Not only are the photographs lovely in their balance and geometric precision, but the story is equally lovely.

  5. shoreacres says:

    I so your geometry story. I lived most of my life convinced I was incapable of doing any math. Hence, I hated it. Then, I started sailing, and my instructor insisted that I learn navigation, . One day, while using a hand-bearing compass to plot our location, I had the revelation: there’s point A, and there’s point B, and we’re here: point C. That’s a triangle — oh, my! The day I figured out the time/speed/distance equation was algebra, I nearly died.

    Now that I’m trying to learn photography, there are math questions galore. The good news is that we can take and enjoy photos while we’re learning the science of it all, and your photos certainly are enjoyable. The snow’s perfect for this sort of geometric approach, too. It simplifies things, and lets the lines take pride of place.

    • Cheri says:

      My story is not original, to be sure. And you are right about the snow–its bulk, at times, and its lightness, at other times make for many photographic decisions.

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