“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” — Elliott Erwitt
The moment you decide to photograph is when your perception of the present moment transforms. The photographer’s eye is a moment of hyper awareness that elevates a level of observation to help you find the extraordinary in the ordinary.
The act of seeking something to photograph, whether place, subject, or preconceived objective, is the practice of observing the world around you in the present moment. Most photographer’s goals are to capture synchronous elements in the present; a good exposure, sharp focus, good lighting, solid composition, contrasts, and finding the perfect second to capture all of these elements in a harmonious photograph.
Photography, to me, is the metaphorical act of seek and destroy, but maybe a better analogy for this is warranted to help explain the photographer’s eye. The experience of photographing is a subjective thing for every one, but is there some sort of common experience we have when we photograph?
What I mean by seek and destroy is that I go out to shoot with a purpose, and that is to find something that makes me stop, absorb, and capture something which feels like the perfect moment to capture. It is a feeling of place and time fading away, where a brief moment of uncertainty and joy emerges from the time when I pack my gear to when I press the shutter.
Photography is the art of observation, just as Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt says in the quote above. Photography is a different way of seeing the world when most of the we are more preoccupied with our every day life. For example, on a road trip the miles and miles of road blend together, or your time working is a blur because you’d rather be spending your time doing something else.
Photography is a time out from the blur of our day to day lives. It allows us to step back from these heavy thoughts and burdens to allow us to exist in a moment that is temporarily free from concern.
The act of photographing is stopping down time in order to pay more attention to the world than yourself. Photography can be an escapism which brings out an indescribable experience, that photographers often have a hard time putting into words. We speak by showing what we create, instead of explaining our purpose and feeling.
It is a form of expression and experience that brings joy into a sometimes chaotic, burdensome, or humdrum existence that a lot of us would like to escape occasionally. Photography is a small vacation from the overpowering thoughts of the mind, and a form of meditation that helps put things in our lives back into balance.
The photographer’s eye is the art of observation like Erwitt said. Art enriches the life of the viewer by showing them your point of view, and aesthetic artistry. Life would be a very dull place without paintings, sculptures, photographs, great literary works, beautiful architecture, etc. It would deprive the world of an essential elements of beauty and enjoyment that the world has enjoyed for thousands of years.
Some people make a living from their photography and can become jaded by the experience of working for difficult clients and not knowing where their next paycheck is coming from, some may do it as a form of escapism from life, some may do it because it’s a fun hobby that makes them happy, and some may do it because it is their artistic outlet.
Photography is different things for different people, but there is something that happens when we challenge our photographer eye to observe the world around us in the present moment: This is what I call uncertainty.
Why does this particular moment make sense? What am I seeing in this composition? Why did I choose this location and time? Is there a purpose to all this? What is photography? What’s the point of photography? Am I really an artist? Am I any good? Is this photograph shit?
These questions run through my mind and often make me reconsider my intentions, but what is amazing is that I can shut this off temporarily to surrender to the moment and just take the damn picture. Photographers are trying their best to photograph what they think will move somebody, but when it comes down to it, many photographers have no idea what they are capturing at that moment until later in the digital darkroom.
The act of photographing is the uncertain act of getting a good exposure and finding something that speaks and relates to our proclivities as humans. In this way, the darkroom is our canvas to translate these moments into an artistic vision. We outline our images with light like a painter sketches before he applies paint. That is the moment of inspiration is when the photographer’s eye is focused to see the compositions potential, or like how the painter constructs the bare bones of a painting with a pencil.
The photographer’s eye helps us write with light, and gives us a purposeful break from our daily lives in order to just let us ‘be’. The beauty of being lost in the moment is one of the most moving experiences I’ve had as a photographer, and it has taught me to look at the world literally in a different light.
It’s amazing what a photograph can do for the photographer its viewers.