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Stopping Time at the Olympic Diving Trials

The Boston Globe now provides an online photography page that features stunning images in full page display. I’ve wanted to call attention to The Big Picture since it was brought to my attention recently, and the images below are a fitting example of the work that can be found there.

Tony Dumais is spinning through the air between the three meter board and the water at the US Olympic diving trials. You’ll see more at the slide show at The Big Picture, but hang with me for just a minute. This is an amazing shot, not least because you are seeing something you would never see were you watching the actual dive. The dive will have been a whirling swoosh of motion that was over in the blink of an eye. Yeats once asked, “O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?” Well, this is how: stop time and take a look.

There is much to see in this instant of stopped time. The incredible muscle definition, his concentration, the contortion that exposes the body while bending it to a demanding task, the sheer energies of the torqued body drawn through gravity’s funnel toward the surface below, the taut suspense of whether he will pull everything together in time. And the photograph asserts itself amidst all this, displaying a human body with the exquisite anatomical detail of Renaissance art. The body is displayed as if a specimen, and yet not only that, for it is both commanded and exposed as part of a society’s relentless attempt to optimize human power. The perfect dive, the perfect shot.

All that is evident in this image, and something more.

Again, the definition is incredible. Allison Brennan could have been sculpted out of living flesh. But another facet is revealed here, as this image reminds us that diving is a controlled fall. Allison seems to have it under control, waiting only for gravity to finish the job. For some reason, however, the photo gives me the sense that she could be falling for miles. She seems to be holding her breath, and that may evoke something dream-like, as though she were under water rather than in the air, or in a science fiction film, falling through one dimension after another in some alternate universe. Her body’s sense of suspended animation reinforces the formal dimension of the photograph itself, a suspension of time, and so of space.

Thus the dive unfolds: from concentrating the body while throwing oneself out into the air, to folding into a controlled fall toward the earth, to entering the water:

This is Terry Horner at the moment of completion. Again, a powerfully defined body, the controlled fall, and now the water. The beautiful water, which reminds us that this has been about being in another medium all along. Not just on the ground, where we only breathe the air and drink the water, but in the air, just as he will within the next instant be immersed in the water. Just as these photographs have allowed us to be suspended within another medium, not just looking at things but caught up in vision, seeing what otherwise would be a blur.

Only a very few people will ever dive at this level. Their experience is not ours, nor should we miss it. The last picture provides a caution in that regard. The buff body is so forceful within the frame, and yet it also is headless. I can’t help but admire his build, and yet he appears monstrous. The beautiful water might as well be a trap. The diving competition has brought these athletes to the heights of athletic achievement, and yet there always remains the fall. Much is given, and yet something is always taken. The Olympics, like the dives, isn’t even here yet but soon will be over. The trick is to see, and savor, the brief moment of time.

Photographs by Harry How/Getty Images. Note that The Big Picture at the Boston Globe online should not be confused with the excellent economics blog, The Big Picture.

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Stopping Time at the Olympic Diving Trials

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