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 a couple of weeks ago – 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? .



43 thoughts on “Seeing Beyond

  1. Otto,
    Also see an albatross with a dark band across it’s eye, looking to the left. 😉
    Oh, and just above the tip of the albatross’s beak there is a bluejay or parrot looking downward (the dino blends into this bird).
    Just below the snake looking right is part of a bunny nose. Or maybe it is a goat nose. Fascinating!

    I love looking for patterns in nature and have a collection of them on my Wix photography website. One of my favorites that I can stare at for quite a while is the ‘Wall of a Thousand Faces”. A very tiny portion and description can be seen in this photo:

    Thanks for blogging on this!! 🙂

  2. Excellent post, Otto. I saw the iguana before you asked us to look for it 😉
    I am constantly look at things to see other objects. It’s a wonderful and imaginative project.
    I see an otter or seal sliding off the edge into the water. And then I see a humpback whale 🙂

      1. I tell you, Otto… some have no imagination. I posted the picture of a sewer lid – from an angle, it looks like a rusted ship. When I posted it, one unimaginative sort said: Ship? It looks like a sewer… sigh…

  3. Quite a menagerie – elephant, lizard, a pair of tortoises, a slug, and a loon’s head. Your interesting photos and post reminded me – – on a recent radio program, they were discussing, apparently in perfect seriousness, “male refrigerator blindness” i.e. men’s inability to locate anything in a refrigerator. One theory is that it’s not a function of height, stereotypical household roles, etc. but rather that due to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, women are genetically coded to forage, and therefore better at spotting shapes, details and patterns. I don’t have any problem spotting things in my kitchen, I keep only minimal supplies, and no leftover woolly mammoth ribs in the freezer, etc. And moreover, really enjoy spotting patterns and shapes in nature, like your wonderful tree iguana, or your stony zoo. Very nice post!

  4. I think this can be hard as you said it is part of our nature to react to potential dangers or potential advantages. You are absolutely, right kids are good at this. I think is also fun too aside from photography respect.

  5. I do think labels are often an obstacle to creativity in art and living an open and accepting life. Seeing beyond seeing is a wonderful way to open ourselves to possibility across all sectors of life. Thank you for the challenge, Otto. You’ve provided some good “food for thought.”

  6. One of the photographers I have studied, Minor White, said to photograph a subject for what else it is. Your iguana is a great example of that. Your second image has so many other visions.Great eye-opening post, Otto.

  7. With your last post I started thinking about the well-known artist’s book ‘Drawing On The Right Side of the Brain’ by Betty Edwards. I think the right (creative) and left (analytical) brain theories might apply. Perhaps we need to start ‘seeing’ with our right brain. That’s what drawing involves … really seeing. Child-like drawings objectify … a face has 2 eyes, nose and mouth but it isn’t a portrait of anyone because they are drawing what they know, not what they see. Great post!

    1. Thank you Denise. I think today’s science more or less agree that there isn’t a left and a right side of the brain with very specific brain activities, but rather both creativity and rationality is spread around in the brain (in more or less separate areas). Nevertheless, it’s still of great value to distinguish between creative and analytical brain activity – and train to be less analytical.

  8. Enjoyed the blog Otto. I do believe you have something here. I suspect I will be more inclined to see things like I have seen in paintings or favorite images that were very creative if I try hard. Think I will try it!

  9. free your mind and the rest will follow lalalala i forget who did that song
    thats some weird tree action! i’m very associative lol

  10. Pehaps it’s because I spent so much of my childhood flat on my back, staring into the clouds and looking for shapes, that I’ve ended up quite a “pareidoliac” — someone given to seeing familiar objects or patterns in otherwise random or unrelated objects. What’s odd is that I very rarely see such things in my own photos; I’m more more likely to see them in others’ images. I certainly do understand Michael Smith’s comment: “I am not looking for anything. I am just looking.” I use other words; I say I’m like the Bear who went over the mountain, to see what he could see.

    I saw the iguana immediately. In the second image, I see a very large eel slithering in from the right, lurking just inside the rocks while it waits for the big, open-mouthed fish on the left to come closer.

  11. Great post! I hadn’t quite considered this: “unlearn our regular way of seeing”. It makes me think of people who see all sorts of things in the clouds. Then there are others who just see clouds, or scientific names of the types of clouds. It also reminds me of those drawing/paintings that suggest one thing until you stare long enough or look away and glance back and the image shifts into another thing. (The classic beautiful woman/old woman.)

  12. The Michael Smith quote says it all for me, and personally, I prefer not to find animals in clouds or rocks or logs, but if that helps loosen someone’s ideas about the world, it’s probably good. I think that all too often, that kind of practice substitutres one label for another and Id’ rather not put any name on something if I’m trying to see it aestheticlaly. But the world is big enough for all of us. 🙂

  13. Otto, your eyes see better than mine…but I think I can see an alligator. I must admit that I struggle with my imagination, I don’t think I have a very creative brain. I have enjoyed this post and perhaps I need to practice this skill a bit more.

  14. Io ci vedo una balena formata dalle rocce, in alto nel mezzo della foto, formata dalle foglie vedo un’aquila con le ali aperte, A destra nascosto tra le foglie un gufo e a sinistra, sempre mimetizzato tra le foglie, il muso di un cerbiatto.
    Forse ho visto troppe cose ahhaha
    Ciao, Pat

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