Friday, January 28, 2011

What We See

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

– Henry David Thoreau

Today, I want to talk about the "simple scene" and  your imagination.  In the spring of last year I posted this image in my Flickr account.  And, as images go, would be considered a "dud" if rating purely on the amount of activity it received.  Understandable, for when sitting in a sea of thumbnails, why would you click on something like this unless it was purely out of curiosity for what you were looking at?  I have found though as I continue to grow in my expression as an artist and a photographer, I must explore ways of capturing visually this narrative that begins running through my head when I come across a scene like this one.  A simple scene that has caused me to linger but could be easily dismissed as too "uninteresting" to be photographed.   But if it were truly "uninteresting", what caused me to linger in the first place?  It suddenly dawned on me  I need to recognize these meaningful moments.  There's a beauty happening in this small sliver of a scene hiding in the midst of a larger perspective.  What is it?  How do I capture it?  How can I make these feeling come alive?

I sat by this little stream for some time wondering about these things.   I remembered countless times as a child by other streams, building bridges and roads along the shore.    Maybe it was something about the light.....warm and caressing in way as  it came streaming through the branches and caused the water to sparkle.  These was a softness to the elements that was bringing all these memories to life.

Or, as in this image.... I was kneeling in a field capturing some macro shots and when I looked up, this is what I noticed.   This glorious clean morning light igniting the dew and bright greens of spring.  It was magical and there was such a feeling of innocence to it I found myself mesmerized.  I thought again of childhood, squinting at the glare of the morning and the sparkle of little moist jewels on the grass.  Again, it was something about the "softness" in the light over all I needed to capture and then translate in a way that would "feel" like the memories it was igniting.

I debate at times of whether or not I can capture this "reality", this it possible?  Well, I'm not sure if it is or not, because no matter how progressed the skill might be, if I'm not looking for the scene layered beneath the image, I'm not going to see it.  Most will probably only see a small bit of stream, a hazy field of grass, or small waves breaking on a shore and, that's ok......that's pretty much what they are.  But hopefully for those who take the time, they will also see another place....another reality, and remember.  Remember their own places of wonder and imagination.   Be stirred to not allow these places to remain hidden, but look for ways through your post work to cause them to come to life.  Just be aware, they may only come "alive" for a small few, but that's ok.  It is not an easy thing to translate things like "emotion" and "memories".  There is no button in Photoshop or process action to download  which will magically bring this translation.  The things that move my emotions in an image will not be the same for everyone and the same will be true for you.  For me, it's a combination of a softness in the contrast, a faded quality in the color, and a glow to the light that with the simplicity of the scene bring the emotional element I try to express.  A feeling that years ago the picture was taken and then stored away in some cigar box with other treasures collected along the way.

The important things are these.....recognize, capture, and experiment.  The more you do these three things, the better you will become with expressing yourself in all of your images, much less the simple ones.  Just like the quote I had at the beginning suggests...."It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see".....and then taking "what we see", and helping others to see it.


  1. Hi John, I am here from flickr -- Carroll.Mary. I have long admired your images on flickr, but I am completely bowled over by your thoughtful and beautifully written posts here. I'm so glad to have found your blog, and look forward to visiting often. :).

  2. I enjoyed this post just like I enjoyed the last one. I'm eagerly waiting for the next. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Much obliged!

    Happy Blogging :)

  3.'s Nancee_art from Flickr. The longer I make pictures the more I realize that everyone brings their own unique history to the viewing of what we make...If that can trigger a (remembered) moment of being fully present or share an instance of mindfulness then then image is a success IMHO.

    I love the warm light and irregular organic textures in your supposed 'subject-less' pictures - I find them wonderfully inviting.