The Art of Seeing

3 commentsPhotography

It used to be that see­ing was an art. And cap­tur­ing an image required thought — not the intel­lec­tu­al kind as aca­d­e­mics and crit­ics would have us believe, but the intu­itive kind. It required an innate abil­i­ty to feel sub­tel­ties of light, form and emo­tion and in an instant just know the deci­sive moment. It required us to see.

Five Min­utes into Dusk | A view from my balcony.

Think about the pho­to before and after, nev­er dur­ing. The secret is to take your time. You must­n’t go too fast. The sub­ject must for­get about you. Then, how­ev­er, you must be very quick. — Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son.

Today much has been said about how dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy lit­er­al­ly puts a cam­era, in one form or anoth­er, in every­one’s hands. Much has been made about how all these cam­eras allow one, under the right con­di­tions, to take a pho­to of such tech­ni­cal per­fec­tion to be suit­able for any medi­um: the web, print, or even a gallery wall. And as usu­al, the self-pro­claimed bleed­ing hearts and “artists” in muse­ums and gal­leries the world over bitch and moan about the death of Pho­tog­ra­phy as a seri­ous artform.

Who cares? I cer­tain­ly don’t. It’s all well and good. But beween those two poles (twit­pic dri­v­el by hob­by­ists at one end and over­cu­rat­ed far­tart by pros at the oth­er) where does that leave pho­tog­ra­phy itself? More pre­cise­ly, where does that leave the act (the art) of seeing?

I am not a purist. Nor am I one to argue the beau­ty of film grain over dig­i­tal noise or even the virtues of “untouched” pho­tos over those Pho­to­shopped to look more like ari­brushed graph­ics than any­thing that could ever come out of the dumb light­proof box we call a cam­era. I’d pre­fer to leave all those debates to tech-blog­gers and hair-split­ters. Film has its val­ue as dig­i­tal has its con­ve­niences. Out-of-cam­era shots have their place just as dig­i­tal neg­a­tive files (like DNG and RAW) not only pre­fer but require post-pro­cess­ing, just as tra­di­tion­al neg­a­tive film requires devel­op­ment in the darkroom.

No, much more than that, this is sim­ply a call to see.

Every one of us who feels com­pelled to snap away at the shut­ter should first take a long hard look inside: at the need that first com­pelled one to look at the world with one’s own naked eyes, cap­ture and share that naked­ness. Today any­one can take a shot. Almost any­one can take a well-exposed, well-com­posed pho­to. And heck, with some pho­to­shop tin­ker­ing (or sim­ply drain­ing it of all col­or into art­sy black and white) most can even take a pho­to­graph good enough to com­pel a friend or two or fifty to “Like” it on Facebook.

But none of those shots, pho­tos or pho­tographs would mat­ter with­out intu­ition. The cam­era looks out­wards but what it reveals is hid­den deep inside. We must see.


SOOLY January 25, 2011 at 11:58 am

❝Un jour, alors qu'un etudiant lui demandait quel appareil il avait utilise pour reussir une photographie particuliere, il repondit, furieux, que sa question equivalait a demander a un auteur quelle machine a ecrire il avait utilise❞ Walker Evans

Meedo January 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm

... or a cook what pots he used.

salwa March 24, 2011 at 11:19 am

i loved every single word of every blog!!!!!i have been going through ur page over and over each day.....was amazing!!!!what you write,the way you criticize,the way you see things i really admire it:)

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