Learning to “See”

Nude with Warhol Mona Lisa

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a talented black and white portrait photographer, Levi Sim, owner of SDesigns Photography. We were discussing photography in general and he made the comment that most people spend only a few seconds looking at a photo. It is artists and other photographers that really “see” into a photo.

This reminds me of a quote by legendary documentary photographer Dorothea Lange – “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” When I became interested in photography as a young boy, I did not have the money to purchase fancy equipment or lots of film. But I did have a library card. Over the next 30 years of so, money would often be an issue and the pursuit of photography took a backseat to raising a family and paying the bills. However, I could always afford to visit the library. I spent countless hours reading about and looking at great photography.

Since I’m now back in college with students less than half my age, finally studying art formally, I’m finding that those decades spent looking at and thinking about photographs have served me very well. My eyes have been “educated” so to speak, and I feel that I’m better prepared to produce interesting photographs. While I don’t always succeed, I feel that my book-trained eyes improve the number of keepers and help to limit the larger quantity of mediocrity.

So if the high cost to photo equipment has got you down, spend some time at your local library. Viewing great photography is almost as worthwhile as making great photography.