“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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.