When We Start Seeing

What do we really see when we look at a photograph? Is it what the photographer wants us to see or what we see because of what we know or what we believe? Let’s think about this for a while.

  1. We only see what the photographer has chosen to frame in the image. Any photograph is just one instance of a multitude of possible ones the photographer could have chosen to make. This selection can either be done during the capturing of the image or during the processing of the image or both. Either way the photographer is choosing to deliberately include or exclude certain elements.
  2. We only see what we look at and looking is an act of choice. We can choose to spend time examining an image, maybe as we would do if we had paid to go to an exhibition by a well known photographer who’s work we value and who we want to get to know more. At the other extreme we can flick through one image after another, maybe as we do when looking at photographs on Instagram or Flickr, barely registering what the subject of the image is let alone what the idea behind the photograph is.
  3. As John Berger says in his book Ways of Seeing, when an image is presented to us the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of ‘learnt assumptions’. These can be things like: beauty, truth, genius, civilisation, taste etc. As this article points the way we see, especially what we see, can can also be gender related. You might think this is a slightly more abstract notion of how we view images and I think boils down to what you might call pre-conceived notions (e.g. of what is ‘beauty’) or even our prejudices (I’ve never liked that person so don’t like this portrait of him).
  4. Finally what we see may well be led by how (or if) the image is captioned. This might be a very explicit description of what the photograph is about or might be hinted at by a less descriptive title.

Here though is another thought. Maybe sometimes the photographer deliberately likes to confuse her viewer to make him discover something new, maybe even something the photographer herself was not intending. The photographer Saul Leiter said:

“I like it when one is not certain what one sees. When we do not know why the photographer has taken a picture and when we do not know why we are looking at it, all of a sudden we discover something that we start seeing. I like this confusion.”

These then are the motivations for this series of images. I wanted to create something that makes the viewer ‘start seeing’ even though they may not know why they are looking at the image. I have taken the decision to hint at something in the way I’ve titled the image.

Inside or Out?

Inside or Out?

Seeing Art or Selling Art?

Seeing Art or Selling Art?

Is It Really?

Is It Really?

A Lit Brolly?

A Lit Brolly?

Photographing Who or What?

Photographing Who or What?

Snow or Sand?

Snow or Sand?

All images were taken over two days in Madrid with either an Olympus OM-D E-M1 or Fujifilm X100T.

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