I spent way too long last week trying to come up with a way to express something in the 140 characters that Twitter allows. I had seen something in one or another of my social media streams, something about a course where you can “find your photographic vision.” There was something about how it was written that got my knickers twisted, maybe because a couple years ago I would have used similar words and I think I’ve grown in my understanding. Maybe because I worry some of you are going to fall for it.
Photographic vision is not something you look for, it’s something you look with; a way of seeing the world. Or so said my tweet. What I wanted to say is this: it’s not something I look for just once, find, and then move on to making photographs, content in the knowledge that the painful work of “finding my vision” is behind me. It is, if it’s anything more than just an imperfect metaphor, a changing way of seeing the world, one that evolves as we do. It’s not something you find, then move on. It’s the changing answers to the ever-present question: how do I see the world?
As we change, and as the world around us changes us, and the information and experiences we have of that world also changes, so will our vision. And so will the way we express that vision.
The question is not: “Do I have vision?” Because you do. It is not really “How can I refine my vision?” Because I think your vision refines you and not the other way around.
Maybe we’re chasing the wrong thing. Maybe it’s enough just to be aware of the role of vision, and to create in alignment with it. I do think being aware of what we feel and think and want to say, is important, especially at the beginning when we’re not as intuitive as we think we are. But like anything, it’s easy to make a religion of it. It’s easy to look for something so earnestly, to want to find something so badly, that we lose the joy of it. And maybe it’s enough just to be assured that it’s there – your vision – and stop fretting so much about it.
Let me try one more metaphor. I wear eyeglasses. They are, literally, the lenses through which I see the world. They are important. I need to remember to put them on, and I need to clean them occasionally. I need, as I change, to get the prescription changed once in a while. But I do not walk around looking at the lenses in front of my eyes. I’d go cross-eyed. I’d stop focussing on the world beyond. I’d miss the astonishing moments, the colour, the light. Once in a while I lose the glasses and go on a hunt to find them, sure. But it’s seeing clearly that is the point. It’s life out there and the ability to express something about that life, that is the point. At least for me.
The hard part isn’t finding your vision. It’s keeping up with it. It’s finding true ways to use our craft to its very limits in order to express that vision. It’s working hard enough to master it, but not so neurotically that we lose the play, the joy, the wonder.
Maybe that’s what’s behind my Gear is Good, Vision is Better mantra. It’s a reminder, first to my so-easily distracted self, to focus on what we see, and how we see it, not the tools, to look beyond the lenses and the frames of my eyeglasses, and just see – really see – the world, and all it contains.