Seeing: Photographic Reflections of the Soul

My last few posts have been about the tools of photography. This article is about how those tools are just vehicles for your vision. Without a vision defining what you are seeing and a deep desire to express it, we fall short of making those unique expressive photographs. The results will simply be snapshots. We want to make images that are uniquely ours. We cannot all be poets but we all can strive not to be prosaic. Teachers of the arts often ingrain in us our individualism and uniqueness. True, but that does not necessarily mean you will make unique and special images.

The photographer striving for notable images must be constantly challenging what he is seeing and feeling. It means being in touch with, dare I say it, our soul. Since childhood we have been trained and ingrained with prejudices. We are told that over there is a gnarled tree. That is a smashed car. This is an angry man. That is a sad child. After constant repeated experiences, we learn to label everything we see. The good part is it’s what helps us to survive. We need to recognize what is shelter or water or food. However, it can be a curse to the photographer whose desire is to express his emotions by “seeing” something new and communicating it to another person. How do you do that without it being a cliché? We see a beautiful sunset and click we capture it. Our emotional response is ingrained and we act. As an aspiring artist your work is not done. We need to look and look again and question ourselves. Am I responding to the color of the light? Is it the enlarged Sun? Does the photo I just took really reflect what I just saw and what I am feeling? Could I have framed it differently? Leonardo da Vinci said “Art is never finished only abandoned.” Don’t abandon your work after one click.

I like to turn my back on a subject trying to see what I am photographing reflected in a mirror or a window; I can usually get a different perspective. Often, our first impression is not always the most unique and expressive. Yes, it is the sum of all our life experiences and knowledge. However, the trick is to challenge ourselves to explore new experiences and presume we know nothing. The sunset is not a sunset as my brain tells me but rather the sun is an exploding ball of light burning up the Earth as it tumbles behind the horizon. Ok, a little over the top but I exaggerate to illustrate my point. Believe it or not it is hardest for the advanced amateur or professional to break out of preconceived notions. They start imitating photographs they have seen; photographs that people recognize as good. They must challenge themselves the most. I don’t mean making images that are different just to be different. The Art World today all too often embraces and praises what is different rather what is good. It is an internal struggle.

The camera captures what the artist is creating. So, what camera I use or what lenses I have are important only as the tools for my creations. They are my brushes to express, comment and communicate in a special way. We want the viewer to say “I would never have thought to see it that way. I wish I could see like you.” If we can achieve that we leave the prosaic behind.