Tetrapods in the Sea of Japan. Hokkaido, 2015.
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.
Hi David ! thanks for the inspiration ! Yes, since i’ve “dumped the ballast” and limited myself to one camera/lens (like my eyes, also only one focal length 😉 my vision is improving. to build on your remark: gear is less, vision gets better ! 😉 warm regards, Hendrik
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Thank you David,
I think vision is something not a lot of photographers are aware of, and its something that is hard to find for some of us. Specially in a world were everybody has a “profesional camera” that takes good pictures.
So the world needs photographers with a voice, something unique to say.
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David, the cross-eyed analogy is perfect.
As for me, I also wear glasses (progressives, there’s another metaphor in that, I’m sure), and I love pulling them off, holding them at weird angles, and looking at the world through them that way, too. I don’t wear my glasses while shooting, so my blurred sight is part of how I approach things, as well.
So I think it’s possible to have more than one “vision” that makes up your overall Vision…
This is one of the trickiest of photographic subjects, and I admire your skill in covering it. I agree with so much of what you say in this post. I also think that on these more abstract subjects semantics can take over. What I see in many photographers, and have found in myself at times, is a lack of awareness of the themes already in their portfolio. Perhaps that is what you are referring to that it may be enough to just be aware of the role of vision. A portfolio is in a sense a self-portrait, and it is worthwhile to take pause and look in the mirror. Who am I (as a photographer). How do I see the world? How am I communicating that in my work (and can I do it more effectively, through awareness)? The answers to these questions, in my opinion, lead to a more fulfilling photographic and life experience, not to mention a stronger, more identifiable body of work.
Personally, I see myself reaching for the same things in my work today that I did 8 or 9 years ago. I am refining and expanding my vision, but I don’t see the core themes changing much.
Thanks for another great post and discussion.
Wow, i loved the way you used the eyeglasses metaphor. It worked for me. Food for thought for sure.
Very well said, as usual David.
Something that hang’s up newbies, at least it did me, when I first started out. I was attracted to art as a very young age, but I didn’t really know what was good and what was not, especially when it came to my own work.
By doggedly reading, studying the works of the masters, etc., I came to a point where I trusted my own vision, and also became skilled enough to realize it in my work, but It was a long, sometimes painful journey. But there was also joy in that pain, and excitement when things would go right.
This is off the point, but I found this yesterday on a wall of the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, ME and feel it’s well worth sharing:
It’s no accident that we all lie nestled
together in the curves of the universe.
We are tugged by the forces of celestial tides.
Time unfolds in on itself and outward again in
gladness as we spin around each of us an utter
miracle in a sea of tiny white stars.
I like, as always, the things you say. Your language is certainly changing. In this post you seem some kind of presocratic philosopher, wich is very good, kind of “back to the basics”. Thank you very much.
Learning to see better is a skill, hope I am learning it! Great images BTW.
For an amateur photographer and only since a few years ago…your words are so valuable. Thank you for the wisdom!
Wise words bro! Thanks for the post. Also, lovely black and white versions.