Looking and seeing

A meditative approach to photography helps us to make the shift from looking to seeing.  It helps us to cultivate the habit of seeing more clearly, becoming more awake to each moment. I love this quote by Frederick Franck, which seems to sum this up perfectly:

“We do a lot of looking: we look through lenses, telescopes, television tubes…Our looking is perfected every day, but we see less and less.”

The same can be said of photography, if we allow it to happen.  We can ‘do’ photography, dashing round snapping this and that without much thought or presence, or we can ‘be’ photography, and let the images come to us.

So what do we mean by ‘seeing’? Freeman Patterson has the answer this time:

“Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions.  It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being.  It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”

Sometimes it can be hard to really see.  Perhaps we are busy with other things, other thoughts.  This preoccupation means that life rushes by in a blur and we cannot see beyond the essential.  Maybe there is just too much to take in, to make visual sense of it, so we block much of it out.  Perhaps it’s all just so amazing we become immune to its charms and no longer notice it.

Strong reactions, whether like or dislike, can prevent us from seeing clearly, as the emotional response clouds our ability to respond objectively.  Sometimes it is the mundane things that allow us to explore their potential more fully.

To me, the biggest barrier to seeing clearly can be the deep set habit to label things and immediately assign them a value, good bad or indifferent.  We relegate them to the appropriate pile without even bothering to give a second glance.  Monet spoke wisely when he said “In order to see, we must forget the name of the thing we’re looking at.”

Why not take time to look more closely at something mundane this week?  It might surprise you.