Looking Deeper

“The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” Marcel Proust

For many years now, the above quote from Marcel Proust has been my raison d’être. Seeing with new eyes is a cherished tool of any artist.

I often shoot in the same 5 or 6 neighborhoods in New York City. I never tire of them. I recently had a look at some photos that I took when traveling and was a bit disappointed with them. They appear to be the kind of things that you might notice the first time you visit a new place.

I’m not talking about the touristy places either. But the fact is that the more time I spend in one place, the more I see it. The more time there is to discover.

To see with new eyes is to always observe. To go below the surface. Sometimes the best shot is staring at you like for Sherlock Holmes the clues to solving a mystery were right there in front of his nose.

When I am providing workshops and tours, I show people the things that I see. They often marvel at what I see. But I think it’s just a matter of slowing down and taking the time to really see what is there.

Of course, you can never take the same photo twice. The beauty of returning is that the weather and the light are always different. And the people too. I don’t travel much and I don’t really think about it much as I am so happy with the city that I live in. 

Reflection on the High Line
On the High Line, New York City, April 2019

I’ve taken more than 30,000 photos this year. I’m not telling you that a large majority are great. No no. But the activity keeps me happy. I don’t really bother with metrics. So I have no idea what percentage are fabulous.

Maybe it’s better to think of photography like a sport. You go out and hope that you’ll be on top of your game on a given day. It’s always a combination of the physical and mental attitude that you bring to the game.

If you ask me, seeing with new eyes is better than discovering new lands. And it’s a moving target. You can always find new creative inspiration by shifting your focus from the tool to observing those things that leave an impression on the eyes.

Perhaps one of the important things that I bring to my tours and workshops is pointing out those things that are there waiting for you to notice them. Looking deeper. Photography is about recording that which you visualize.

It’s a disappearing act

Does a photo exist if you don’t share it on social media? What is the worth of a photo if you are the only one to see it? If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

In the days before digital photography, a photo only existed if you printed it. It becomes tangible when you can hold it and see it. Touching is believing.

But when you share a photo on social media it has a very limited life span and you don’t know if the intended audience will even see it.

In the past, printing a photo in a darkroom was time consuming. Or having it printed at a lab took time and money. There was always an anticipation waiting for the results.

Soho, NYC Circa 1980
West Broadway, New York City, circa 1980

Now we are instantly gratified or disappointed. The lifetime of a digital photo is measured in seconds. It’s a disappearing act. Anticlimactic.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love photography, digital and analog. The problem is how little time and effort goes into the vast majority of making and viewing photos. What if we had to pay to play? Would that change the game?

If a photo really means something to you, it is perhaps better to print it and hang it on a wall than to throw it out there into deep space. Just a thought.

I Tried to Imagine

I tried to imagine what life would be like without photography. To live in a world before photography existed is the first scenario.

Photography has an influence that comes before the intellect, words and language. For better or for worse, photography influences how we think and how we see the world we live in.

There is of course the danger that we are made to believe things that are not true. But we can also be influenced in positive ways by photography. And we learn through images.

Shadows in Times Square
Wheels, New York City, January 2010

To imagine a world without photography could also be possible if you are born without sightedness. If you have never seen anything would be the closest approximation of imagining a world without photography for me.

Another scenario would be if I never experienced the world of being a photographer. I am not certain that I could imagine my life without photography!

That will be the topic of an upcoming post. What would you imagine your world to be without photography? Your comments are welcome.

What is art?

In New York City, everyone has an opinion. Ask someone where to get the best slice of pizza and you may have inadvertently started a street debate on it. This is an important subject for New Yorkers.

What is art falls into the same category. Good luck getting much in the way of a universal definition or agreement on this subject. The history of art is filled with comments and scholarly writing on it.

For some, it is their career. They get paid for their opinions on art. They probably have advanced degrees in art history and write columns in the media as well as books.

So they are “art experts” They base their opinions on many different things including their personal tastes, even when they don’t acknowledge that point.

Monochrome Street Photography
Park, New York City, May 2012

But mostly, when art critics write about art they are writing about the state of art, different schools of art, particular artists, etc. Their writing has an understood aspect to it. They don’t often feel the need to explain why something can be considered art.

Maybe it’s really a good thing that there isn’t one gospel definition of what art is. Yes, art is very much subjective. It IS in the eye of the beholder! Your feeling about it is all that really matters when observing a piece.

The fact that there is no single definition means that we also have a wide variety of artistic styles. It is not necessary for a work of art to have only one definition.

We should celebrate that art doesn’t fit neatly into one category. And yes, photography is also art so long as you view that way. I do! Just because someone calls it art doesn’t mean that you have to like it. Do you know of a universal definition of art?

Breaking Down Boundaries

Photography, like the arts, is amazing in its ability to break down boundaries across languages and ethnicity. So long as you have sight you can view photos made by people from around the world.

It is possible that the only things that you have in common are human existence and a camera of some sort. Photography allows us to share our vision of the world we live in and how we experience it.

While looking at photos of a city that I haven’t been to before isn’t the same as being there and experiencing it firsthand, it does allow the mind to attempt to fill in the blanks about what it would be like to be there.

Monochrome New York City
One Way One Way, New York City, September 2019

Can you imagine telling someone the raw details of the place that you live and thinking that they may find it interesting without them being able to see images? That of course also assumes that you speak the same language.

There are of course certain authors that are able to write in a language that creates images in the mind. And of course there’s always painting. But perhaps you don’t find the picture postcard photos appealing.

Do picture postcards ever really reveal the things about the city that you would find appealing? Perhaps if your main interest is architecture.

I am always wondering what the world is because of photography and what it would be without it. Certainly it would have a major effect on the travel industry. But also on the way that we view the parts of the world that we haven’t seen.

Is photography a bit like magic? And have we ceased to wonder how important it has been on how we think and live? Sorry to leave you with so many questions. If I discover the answers I will write the book. Thanks for reading. Your responses are always welcome.

Creative Self-Portraits

As a photographer, I am rarely happy with photos of myself. I prefer to be behind the camera rather than in front of it. Perhaps that is a natural response.

So now that we are in the age of the selfie, I have to wonder if I’m alone in my feeling about having photos of myself? It seems that everywhere I go, people are doing selfies.

Not only are they doing selfies everywhere, but it would also appear that they don’t leave the house without thinking about being in front of a camera.

Is this Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame spinning out of control? And all for the sake of showing the world how fashionable you are on Instagram. Am I missing the point? Very likely.

Self Portrait in Soho
Double Me, New York City, August 2016

I on the other hand, have quite a few self-portraits that are either shadows or reflections. I especially like abstract self-portraits. It is possible that the viewer may not even be aware that the photo is of me.

If you are aware of a good reason for all these selfies that are going on everywhere, please do enlighten me. In the meantime I will label it narcissism.

Thoughts on Creating

Embracing chance leads to happy accidents.

Repetition leads to style and then boredom. Boredom leads to experimentation.

The process begins as clumsy missteps and moves into something akin to dance.

Brooklyn Museum Abstract Photography
It Was Never Yours, New York City, August 2019

I call myself a backward painter. Unlearning grammar. Skirting the edges.

Curiosity as currency and camera as paint brush.