Art, Photography and Being a Human
How to See
When was the last time you tried to simply see without silently, subconsciously dressing the experience in words? Have you ever tried to simply be without framing the moment with language?
See if you can be only a ‘seer’ for a minute – not a describer, nor a qualifier, nor an explainer. Pretend you don’t have language for a moment. Try to become aware of the initial responses or reactions you have when seeing one of these images without trying to attach any words or descriptions to it. It’s difficult – at first, anyway.
I think one of the greatest gifts of still photography is that once we’ve captured a moment, we now have a small, visual piece of that moment that will exist without change on into the future. And so, there is no need to rush to qualify or contextualize it. We can just sit with it and explore what it makes us feel, or whether or not it makes us feel anything at all.
In my clearest moments, I see photography as a way to visually preserve a present moment, removing it from the flow of time so that we are no longer forced to ingest it or interpret it at the speed of life. It is in no way a substitute for living and existing in as present a state as possible, but it does allow for reflection that can potentially lead us to living more presently.
Before the interpretation of experience, is Experience – undifferentiated, singular and fluid. Absent any awareness of separation from that which we experience, there is a blurring of the presumed limits or borders that typically exists between the viewer and the viewed.
Though before we have a chance to become aware of this Truth, we learn to use words instantly, habitually and mechanically to put our experiences into safe, familiar categories – and to believe that because we have done so, that we somehow know an experience, or a moment, or a thing any better because we have hung some cumbersome description around it’s neck.
Yes, words can be useful in communicating and sharing the beauty, emotion and depth of our experiences with others, and words can be exceedingly beautiful on their own, but they are fundamentally descriptive in nature – even at the height of their creative, beautiful potential, they will forever be secondary to experience.
Words are not, and can never be, the experiences they describe. I don’t believe that they bring us closer to the experiences and moments that move us and stir us emotionally/spiritually/internally – but that they ultimately leave us feeling more separate from the immediacy of experience. Or, at best, create a kind of parallel experience that will never be more than a memory or a shadow of the experience itself.
The more complete and complex one’s description of an experience, the more definite the distinction and the more sure one is of their separateness from the very experience they feel moved to somehow capture with words. Perhaps this response comes from the unconscious knowledge that that which one visually experiences might not last, that we as viewers will eventually succumb to entropy, and fearing that it might soon be lost forever, an attempt is made to create a verbal description that can be called upon in the future that might hopefully breathe at least a small amount of life back into a memory of the raw/emotional/unarticulated experience of a moment passed. And though with photography the linguistic element is no longer required to revive one’s memory of an experience, it is nonetheless, habitually employed and mechanically applied to photographs that do not require it.
Photography is a powerful vehicle capable of conveying us back into these singular, silent and unqualified moments. It is within this moment, within this perfectly unqualified little space, that both my fascination with life and my passion for photography are born.