Seeing Beyond


                 Do you see the iguana?

The way we human beings have developed our seeing, that is to objectify and label everything around us, is unfortunately restricting us more than it is aiding us when we photograph. Because – as I wrote in my post Photographically Seeing last week – the way our eyes see and the way the camera sees is quite different, we almost need to unlearn our regular way of seeing. Instead of for instance identifying a horse as a “HORSE”, that is a horse as an idea or a label, we need to pause our usual scanning with the eyes and rather discover the uniqueness of that particular horse. Objectifying is perfect for daily survival so that we can respond quickly to new situations occurring around us all the time, but not when you want to photograph beyond the obvious.

We will improve greatly as photographers if we can make ourselves see beyond the labels we have wired our brains to register. What instead of a dead, crooked and fallen trunk we can see an iguana climbing over it? Or see – and photograph – the most beautiful landscape in some clothes piled up on a drawer? What I am talking about is being imaginative and changing our usual perspective. When we were kids we had no problems seeing other realities in the world around us, seeing beyond the labels, we as grown-ups are so stuck with. We all delighted doing it when we were kids, pretending to see or seeing things invisible to others. Socialization, adaptation and communication, however, introduced a different agenda and began to mould perceptual conformity. Our reconstructing skills or imaginations – being able to see beyond the labels – were lost.

Open our minds beyond labels and beyond the obvious can open a whole new world for our photography. Derek Doeffinger, a photograph who has written a dozen books about photography, for instance, suggests that «instead of seeing the horseness of a horse, you might see it as a landscape – the prairie of its back rising into a mountainous neck. Or you may see it as a temple supported with four slender columns.»

Developing our receptiveness is a most effective way to avoid photographic clichés. When asked what he looks for in photographing, Michael Smith replied: «I am not looking for anything. I am just looking – trying to have a full an experience as possible. The point is to have a full experience –the photograph is just a bonus.»

In many ways I am talking about training the capacity to discover new ways of apprehending the world. Are you ready to see beyond seeing? Take a look at the photo beneath. How many different animals or other objects can you see in those rocks? .



64 thoughts on “Seeing Beyond

  1. To have the imagination, and wonderment of a child, Is a great quality. In photography, and in life in general. I opened a photo of a bear I had taken the other day, and the first thing I saw was an eye in his hind quarters. I thought I had somehow created a double exposure, but it was the shades in his fur.

  2. Reminds me of the childhood magazines where you had to find objects buried in a line drawing. I always loved those! Very fun to see these creatures “hiding”.

  3. Hmmm, good photos and illustrations of our lack of imagination…I remember once saying something of the beauty of the clouds over my little plot..he looked at me and said: Oh , you are one of those!! I have a feeling I know what he meant! Ha, Ha.

  4. Hej Otto, mycket intressant och väl förklarat både här ochi förra inlägget. Vilka underbara ögonblick det är när man ser motiven på detta sätt. Funkar inte alltid men dessto mer lycklig blir man när det händer.
    Allt gott.

  5. A really interesting exercise Otto, in our adult world seeing a couple of elephants, a Narwhal whale and a turtle swimming on his side to name the most obvious, (to me of course) would possibly be cause for some raised eyebrows in some but of course our brain is constantly trying to make sense of the abstract. Our ancestors would have been looking for form in the abstract shadows, rocks and branches they passed, it may well have saved their lives once upon a time.. that shape in the rock behind the tree that looked a bit like a lion.. well you never know. Great post as always Otto! Perhaps it’s the more primitive parts of our brain we really need to connect with as photographers, quieten the rational frontal lobes and reach a bit further back..?

    1. That is an interesting thought, Adrian, connecting with our primitive parts of the brain. Thanks for being willing to play along with the game. I didn’t see the turtle, by the way. 🙂

  6. Well, of course there is a horse’s head resting on the back of a zebra. In the front is the head and beak of a giant parrot, and lurking in the background is a reclining Cheshire cat. It’s obvious!

  7. You say it very well, we need to see beyond the typical, normal labels as photographers. A beautiful sunset, person, animal or landscape will be beautiful to all eyes and in a sense such beauty will always be there for “seeing” ~ but it takes a good photographic eye to take such a sight and make it unique, adding beauty (if only slightly) in such a way that it becomes some new. Something different, but still holding in the original beauty. Seeing the unseen. I like it. 🙂

  8. Io nelle rocce ci vedo una tartaruga e un’otaria. Bellissimo post, vedere oltre quello che c’è realmente, andare oltre con gli occhi usando anche la fantasia, quello che l’occhio normalmente non cattura. Grazie Otto.
    Saluti, Patrizia

  9. This is coming at the topic from a slightly different angle, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about. While it’s important for a photographer to see the world as it is, with clarity, and then to move beyond the obvious to explore the heart of the world, it’s also important for the photographer to allow viewers to see the finished photograph in their own way.

    Occasionally, I’ll comment on a photo that’s evoked appreciation or strong emotion, only to receive a response like, “That’s not what I was trying to achieve,” or, “I don’t think that’s a strong element in the photo at all.” When that happens, I feel like a child in school who has given a wrong answer, and my initial joy in the image washes away.

    I don’t think any artist — painter, photographer, writer, musician — can predict the responses of others, and certainly we can’t control others’ responses. If there’s a gap between what we see and what someone else sees, it may be simply imagination at play, and not a failure in the artist.

    1. I am very much in agreement with you. As artist we of course have some intents with what we express and some clear or maybe less clear ideas of what we are trying to achieve. But we should also let it be open to the viewers to find their own interpretation and understand of the artistic work. Thank you for bringing these important thoughts into the discussion, Linda.

  10. Thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂
    I love this – we all need to take a leaf out of a child’s book once in a while and use our imaginations to see the world differently!

  11. When we’re children, looking at the clouds and seeing dragons was expected. When we become adults, it seems like we’re supposed to be more practical than that and leave the dragons for the kids — but adults need to look for them too. In photography, yes, but also just to make our hearts happy.

  12. At first, I did not see the iguana. I saw it as a branch.

    Psychologists and educators say that one way that people, especially adults, can regain at least some of their childhood ability to see beyond the literal is to engage in drawing Droodles.

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