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Photography: After Observation

Earl Moore Photography

Through the Window - Observing

“It is possible to interpret without observing, but not to observe without interpreting.” ~ Mason Cooley

We photographers are observers, watchers for those moments which interest or inspire us to push the shutter release and capture a “still image” of that which we saw.

Now, if you watch the TV series “Fringe” you may have an entirely differ perspective of what or who an “Observer” is, but that’s another story.

Being an observer implies, to me, a mostly passive role, yet doesn’t the act of taking a photo propel us to more than simply observing. At the point the shuttle clicks do we become something different — taking a piece of that which we observed for our own use? Is that act in itself part of the interpretation mentioned above?

Our photography and the use of those photos we make can set in motion actions along their own paths. We may be influenced by what we captured at the time, what we later envisioned or what we come to understand — to the point of changing our course, our self discovery. Or perhaps our photos, seen on the web, in a local gallery or even upon our home’s wall may slightly alter someone else’s path.

I’ve had photo’s inspire me to experiment with similar techniques or visit places I’ve never been before. Other photographer’s photos have helped me comprehend situations occurring outside my own experiences. They have on occasion inspired additional investigation resulting in changed opinions or choices. I’ve also read of photographers life and works simply because I’ve seen and liked their photos. Photo’s have power and influence.

If a photo is worth a thousand words then certainly our act of watching and creating them is beyond passive.

Just food for thought. A good weekend to all!

18 Comments on Photography: After Observation

  1. I love that bit of clarity amongst the hazy impressions—the complexity of the nternal and external captured in the neat and orderly grid. Enough food for thought here to last more than one weekend. Thanks!

    • Anita, when I took this photo it was more about the lines and grids of the building window, but once I studied it the focus switched to the window, the reflection of leaves and trees upon the window and the person sitting at the table behind the window. This made gave me the connection of being an observer. I’m still chewing these thoughts myself. Thanks!

  2. I am quite certain that photography had made me see better. No doubt you are correct. How did you get the effect in that image?

    • Chris, thanks. The person, window and reflections are all as they were in the original photograph. In post processing I: simplified the image a bit to emphasize the shapes and lines without distraction using Topaz Simplify; emphasized the area of focus and out of focus using Topaz Lens Effects and then tweeked the tones, contrast, and vignetting using NIK Color Efex and Lightroom.

  3. I think that observing may have little outside effect, but the observer in obviously influenced by it. And photographers who share their observation can have a powerful influence on others. No doubt in my mind.

    • Ken, I agree those being observed may not in any way be affected by the act — in many cases they may not even be aware of it. But once we grab that “piece” or “moment” represented in a photo it is subject to our interpretation and presentation perhaps to others. It is that act which may indeed influence others. Things are seldom set in concrete in my mind, my world is more of grays then black and white, so I’m still shifting and arranging my thoughts on all this. Thanks.

  4. I am more of an interpreter than observer :)

  5. Paul Maxim // 3 Dec ’11 at 9:57 am // Reply

    Interesting post, Earl, and an interesting image.

    First, I do watch “Fringe” and I’ve often thought of those “observers” as potentially perfect photographers. They watch, they record (mentally), and then sometimes act on what they’ve seen. Passive? No. And neither are photographers. At least not the “real” ones (I don’t include myself in that esteemed group, by the way).

    I would say, however, that the vast majority of us rarely influence anyone else. We might provoke a “Wow” or even make someone consider going to a faroff place to see something unusual, but I don’t think we ever succeed in altering anyone else’s behavior or way of thinking. Photographers like James Nachtwey might, but people like him are extremely rare. Taking a decent image is one thing; having a “powerful influence” on someone else is very different.

    Are images really “worth a thousand words”? Perhaps 1% or so are. Most are not (again, including my own). As individuals, our photographic behavior is entirely self-centered, much like the behvior of most politicians. Real photographic art, the kind that can provoke long conversations, is both obdurate and elusive. Seeing it is rare enough. Actually producing it is rarer still.

    • Paul, thanks.

      Those “Fringe Observers” may be more videographers who don’t mind becoming directors to get the scenes they consider to be correct. Passive…no!

      We think differently on the meaning of the term “real.” In my mind there are lots of “real” photographers but only a few that reach the master or esteemed level. It’s like in cooking, there are many chiefs in the world but only a few who could be called a “Master Chief” — however, that doesn’t mean the other’s aren’t “real” chiefs. So by that logic, you’re a real photographer in my book. Just terminology perhaps.

      I don’t disagree with you that powerful influences, in the form of photographers or photos are extremely rare. Single life changing events are one in a million.

      However, I do believe change is often measure in fractions of an inch rather then miles. Even small things we are exposed to help shape our memories and thoughts.

      You love the southwest and have made some beautiful photos of that area, which I’ve admired. Now when I see photos or video of that area I often think of your photos and perhaps in some subconscious way compare them. You’re photos have had some level of influence on me — I guess your photos are “real” too. ;-)

  6. If that is food for thought, it is certainly a lot to chew on.

    I liked your Fringe reference. I have been watching it from the start, and have to admit the show had me wondering for awhile exactly what direction it was taking.

    To add upon your thoughts here, how many people observe and never take time to understand? Do we observe and just ask unanswered questions? Do we care to seek the answers?

    • Mark, my thought…questions being asked, answered or unanswered, are a much more positive indicator then there being no investment or questions at all. I like Paul’s comment below about knowing the “right” question.

      Thanks for continuing the conversation and thought process here!

  7. Paul Maxim // 4 Dec ’11 at 10:57 am // Reply

    I think that you and I, Earl, don’t really disagree too much on things. Yes, I think anyone who takes photography seriously can be put in the “real” category (as opposed to the snapshot takers, I guess). But most fall somewhere in the middle of that big bell shaped curve. Few find the right edge of that statistical distribution where the “masters” reside. Like athletes or chefs or painters or writers, only a few ever reach that level of accomplishment. We are not all equal, and some of us are just plain mediocre at best. That’s life.

    Mark’s comment about “unanswered questions” is also interesting. It reminds me of something that photographer Robert Adams once said. I can’t seem to find it online, so let me paraphrase. He said that the essence of Art was in finding the right question. Once the artist knew what that question was, everything else “was in the can”. I very much agree with that thought. Knowing the answers to the wrong questions is not nearly as important as knowing what the “right” question is. Even if the answer was unknown. For me, that defines “Art”.

    • Paul, I found Mark’s comment interesting as well and I like the thoughts about knowing the right question. More food for thought.

  8. While reading your article a beautiful quote by Elliott Erwitt came to my mind. I think it describes wonderfully what photography is about. “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.”

    • Martina, yes, I agree it’s much about the way we see things and we photographers often move beyond observation capturing moments which inspire us and then presenting them to others in the form of our photos.

  9. Photography has helped me see the world with new eyes. My age and life experiences have also defined how I see. I’d suggest I’m an observer first then an interpreter. I like Martina’s quote from Erwitt.

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