I often wonder what the subjects of my photographs think when they see me with a camera pointing in their general direction. The optimist in me would like to think that what they see is a creative in action, someone who has somehow managed to set himself free of the daily trappings of the world in order to pursue the higher calling, that of creating photographic art. Wouldn’t that be nice. However, I’m not sure that is the case, or at least not the case in the majority of situations. I have no doubt that for some people, finding themselves on the receiving end of a telephoto lens is the functional equivalent of finding themselves unwittingly facing a weapon. Not that they think for a second that the lens will do any bodily harm to them, but rather that their selection as your subject from amongst the crowd could prove to be somewhat of a disconcerting feeling. Why me? Who is this person? Has he or she been following me? Why is that photographer so fixated on me? We could go on forever with these questions.
What the subjects of our photos may not realize is that in the vast majority of cases, photographing them is a form of flattery, of recognizing their uniqueness in a particular setting or situation. Most serious photographers are extremely selective, and when they pick a person or a place as the subject of their photos, rarely it is with the intention of accentuating something negative. Look at a site like Instagram on any day, and what will immediately jump at you is the overwhelming positive nature of the photographs. This applies to photographers of all kinds, from the casual mobile photo enthusiast to the equipment-heavy pro. And while there will always be a few rotten apples in the bunch, their numbers are absolutely minimum compared with the millions of photographers who are using the their skills to tell a happy story. With their captures what they are saying is that you, the subject of their photographic interest, are special, a key figure in a creative process, and the unique protagonist of a story in the making. The photographer may be insignificant to you, but you are not insignificant to them. In that brief fraction of a second when the shutter clicks, you immediately become an integral part of a larger photographic narrative the world is eager to see, or at the very least, should see. The photos that will be part of that story will remind people that there is a lot more to the world than their own, limited surroundings. They will remind them that humanity is constantly on the move in a world that is forever changing. The photographs, like the great travel narratives, will be part of the living record of society, of its people, and of the places that occupied our imaginations and time. The necessary proof of the wonders and tribulations of the world we all lived in.
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.
Let’s face it, not everyone can live in Paris. Sure, come can, but this post is for the rest of us mortals who sometimes need to struggle with our familiar surroundings in order to overcome photographic paralysis. For the creative in all of us, the numbing effect of the familiar can easily lead to a condition where the sights that are right there in front of us have become transparent to us. We just don’t see things any more. Think back and retrace everywhere you’ve been this week and you’ll know what I mean. Most of us will simply not be able to describe everyone we met or everywhere we went. To a large extent, the familiar has become transparent and has stopped registering in our consciousness.
The same with our attitude towards photography. It is very easy to convince ourselves that there’s nothing new to photograph in the neighborhoods, towns, or cities where we have lived for so long. It all looks the same, and probably ceased to inspire us a long time ago. In fact, the thought of prepping your gear to go photograph something you’ve photographed many times before can be outright debilitating. Too familiar. Too transparent. Ever been there? Well, I have, and nothing good photographically comes out of it. However, it really doesn’t have to be this way. With a little effort on our part, we can easily overcome the negative effect of the familiar. Convince yourself that the world around you is nothing but a huge photographic opportunity waiting for someone like you to find those photos. Make it a point to stop and visit a place that caught your eye at some point, but which you never took the time to explore. Find the new in the old by walking around a building instead of in front of it, by sitting in a garden and observing, and by looking all around you as if you were expecting a Mafia hit at any time. Slow down, use your feet, dare to walk into empty spaces, and imagine. If anything, you’ll have lots of fun in the process.