How do you see?

When you look, do you see the big picture or the detail, do you crop or try to frame as much as possible, do you alter the scale and change the perspective…?

We all see different things, even when we’re “looking” at the same view.  If we were to draw, photograph or memorise a particular scene we would all create a different image from the same inspiration.

Many artists, or even movements (e.g. Cubism), are known for their particular way of seeing.

In the 2008-2009 exhibition “A Photographer’s Life, 1990 – 2005” at the National Portrait Gallery, Annie Leibovitz talks about long car journeys taken with her parents.  As a child she viewed the world through the back window of a car and this served as an early introduction to framing what she saw.

Bloody Bicycle

“Bloody Bicycle” by Annie Leibovitz, Sarajevo, 1993

The photograph “Bloody Bicycle” was taken in Sarajevo in the summer of 1993.  Even with the subject closely cropped and as a black and white image it conveys a sense of misfortune, of something unpleasant… this could be anything from a playground accident to a wartime atrocity.  Other photojournalists may have included more of the background or the person who had been riding the bicycle.

“When I take a picture I take 10 percent of what I see.”
Annie Leibovitz

Another photographer with a particular way of looking is Henri Cartier-Bresson.   He said, “Pictures, regardless of how they are created and recreated, are intended to be looked at.  This brings to the forefront not the technology of imaging, which of course is important, but rather what we might call the eyenology (seeing).”

Whatever the discipline, the artist/designer/maker needs to “see” the inspiration before it is used to create the work.  The items left out are perhaps of equal importance to those that become the focus.

The Palais Royal Gardens

“The Palais Royal Gardens” by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, 1959

Tamil Nadu

Image by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tamil Nadu, Madura, India, 1950

In both of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s images above, the way the image is cropped and framed to include or exclude particular elements draws your eye to what the photographer is trying to show you.  The repetition of the geometry in the trees and buildings or the cartwheel spokes reflected in the mother’s hand-span would have been available for all to see, although each artist/designer/maker would have viewed this in their way of “seeing” and then captured it accordingly.

“In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject.
The little, human detail can become a leitmotiv.”
Henri Cartier-Bresson

Focusing on the little details and seeing them as potential leading motifs, that is how I see.


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