Seeing Differently By Adjusting Your Visual Gyroscope

Sometimes all it takes to see things differently is to climb a set of stairs and look down.
Sometimes all it takes to see things differently is to climb a set of stairs and then proceed to look down.
Using a different lens could lead to new and creative ways of seeing in the urban environment.
Using a different lens could lead to new and creative ways of seeing in the urban environment.
Common urban scenes familiar to most folks can prove to be quite interesting if observed from a different perspective.
Common urban scenes familiar to most folks can prove to be quite interesting if observed from a different perspective.
Curved lines will always add a different architectural perspective to the landscape.
Curved lines will always add a different architectural perspective to the landscape.
A lone and otherwise insignificant street lamp acquires a new personality as a result of empty space.
A lone and otherwise insignificant street lamp acquires a new personality as a result of empty space.

There is something to be said for purposefully changing the way we see. Not that there’s anything wrong with the “panning field of view” approach that characterizes the way we see most things on a daily basis.  Rather, the point is that within all those daily panoramas there are endless opportunities to adjust our visual gyroscopes in order to add a little spark to our visual enjoyment of life.  This take on our visual world is nothing new. After all, most people already do this, albeit somewhat unconsciously.  It happens whenever they adjust their positions to “get a better view,” or when they take the elevator to an observation deck in order to see the world around them from a different vantage point. Something deep inside us all gives rise to the desire for visual adjustment, and whether it is the result of simple curiosity or much deeper emotions, it nevertheless represents a transition from a less-fulfilling state to a more fulfilling one. It is positive energy at its best, and we all know that we could use a lot more of that.

Seeing differently, however, does not come without some effort. Just like it is imperative to climb a set of stairs before enjoying a view, there are some stairs to climb when adjusting the way we see in that crazy world around us.  But what really matters in the end is that the rewards of such climbs are incredibly satisfying.  They just take a “change in latitude,” like the common saying says.  The few photographs on this week’s post are the result of some of those changes in latitude–simple attempts to see the familiar differently.  As if out of nowhere, the old became new, and the familiar revealed itself in a brand new light.  I immediately came to the realization that these scenes were there all the time for someone to see them, provided that someone took the time to look.

 

To Hover Is To See: Images From Two City Blocks

This gentleman was looking away, but waiting for him to turn around produced the desired photograph. [Click photo to enlarge]
This gentleman was looking away, but waiting for him to turn around produced the desired photograph. [Click photo to enlarge]
Couples in love will always be great subjects to photograph. [Click photo to enlarge]
Couples in love will always be great subjects to photograph. [Click image to enlarge]
Rare as it may be, there's always plenty of public romance in our cities. [Click to enlarge]
Rare as it may be, there’s always plenty of public romance in our cities. [Click image to enlarge]
Candid moments are simply the best, provided you learn to anticipate the scene. [Click for larger image]
Candid moments are simply the best, provided you learn to anticipate the scene. [Click image to enlarge]
Sometimes the secret is to see the image amongst all the environmental noise surrounding it. [Click image to enlarge]
Sometimes the secret is to see the image amongst all the environmental noise surrounding it. [Click image to enlarge]
 

Recently, I bumped into a local photographer friend of mine who happened to be hanging around an icy puddle of slush on a Washington, DC downtown corner.  Noticing that he was kind of hovering around the area with his Leica rangefinder at the ready, it was obvious that he was waiting for something to happen, so I asked him how it was going.  Without taking his eyes away from that puddle of slush for more than a second, he told me that he was waiting for the “decisive moment” when someone would hop over the puddle so he could capture it a la Cartier-Bresson.  To say he was working the scene would be an understatement.  Dodging people and nature while constantly shifting his position, he appeared to be moving with the grace of a Mohamed Ali within the confined amount of space allowed by a busy sidewalk.  I don’t know if he ever got his picture, but if he didn’t, it was certainly not for lack of trying.

Working a scene is what appears to be at the root of any great photograph.  When we look at some of the unbelievable photographs made by National Geographic photographers, what makes these photographs so special to a large extent is the unique perspective from which they were captured.  Composition, angle of view, and masterly handling of light are not things that happen by chance.  At that level, lots of considerations go into a photographer’s choices before that shutter is finally pressed, and luck, while always welcomed, has nothing to do with it in the vast majority of cases.  It is visual decision-making at its best: when to hang tight, when to move, when to aim, when to shift left or right, when to squat, or climb a building–they are all the product of intense observation and quick reaction, even if the end result is to stand still and wait.  While not perfect in any way, every single photo on this blog today was made possible by the simple act of waiting. Waiting for the cigar-smoking gentleman to look at me, waiting for the couples to show some tenderness, waiting for the grandfather to strike a teaching pose at the museum, and waiting for the waiter to approach the window.  Waiting, and anticipating.  Some may call this luck, and no doubt there’s some truth to the fact that the subjects could have acted otherwise, but the old saying, “The more I practice, the luckier I get,” may also have something to do with it.  Learning to see, combined with the patience that so often rewards anticipation, will pay great visual dividends after the shutter is pressed.  So after hanging around two downtown blocks for an entire afternoon on a very cold day, here’s the photographic lesson that was reinforced in my mind: that it is OK to run when you have to, but when you don’t, then don’t. Great things may happen when you allow your eyes the time to do what they do best: to see.