"Well Seen"

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by michaellinder, May 16, 2022.

  1. Just what do these two words mean? I'm offering herein a discussion that took place many years ago in the hopes - now that I've grown in experience and wisdom (Wisdom, not so much). To get this thread started, I still recall from my days reading philosophy that there's a distinction between seeing and seeing as. The first is merely a physiological process, while the latter also involves an act of consciousness. Immanuel Kant is credited with developing the "Second Copernican Revolution," which involved the dictum that percepts without concepts are empty, while concepts without percepts are blind."

    Back to the OP. . . A photographer may be walking along a bank of a stream during the beginning of sunset. This person may note the water color, the colors of the nearby vegetation, and may hear the rapid s lapping against the shoreline. However, once the person begins to pose a mental question about what camera settings to use, whether the shooting location is advantageous, etc, the person has crossed the line from the processes that allow eyes to realm of the conceptual.

    Your thoughts, if you please . . .
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  2. Reminds me of Backgammon when you would make a good roll and your opponent would say "nice catch".
  3. While supposed to be in school I'd often shoot pool with a very sharp street kid who always was on the lookout for an opportunity - any opportunity, his motto was 'Any garbage can can come up with a chicken
  4. The way I can relate this to photography is the difference between seeing the world and what’s in it and seeing the world and what’s in it as a photo.

    Whatever I see has unlimited potential appearances, depending on factors like lighting, distance, perspective, focus, exposure, context, framing, etc.

    And my mood or emotions or an advance concept I have often precede what I see, influencing how it appears before I even see it.
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  5. Right you are, Sam. What I stated in the OP was short-sighted.

    PS Thanks for for doing a bit of philosophy with me.
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  6. The way I ‘see’ this is, there can be three categories of seeing that is relevant to photography. 1) seeing a scene and recognizing it’s physical objects, 2) how the scene appears to the photographer, I.e. what mood it imparts or truth it conveys, 3) how the viewer sees the scene. These three ways of seeing may or may not agree with one another.

    We as photographers, almost always see something in a scene that prompts us to record it in a photo (sometimes, we may not even be consciously aware of what we say, while pressing the trigger). We will occasionally see something else while reviewing a photo later. Also, many times, viewer will come back with seeing something extra or all together different in it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I as photographer spotted a scene and captured it that helped open up a visual dialog with the audience. That is more than what one can expect in this field.
  7. It seems not so straightforward to me.
    Certainly it's about "seeing", but that's absolutely not enough. Because there is a vast gap between what I see and what makes a photograph with some sense.
    Probably it is not necessary to delve into the complexity of human perception and seeing, and the two-dimensional characteristic of a photograph, as well as the perspective and composition techniques, which can be used to bridge this vast gap.

    This cute quote of Henri Cartier-Bresson comes to mind. Aligning the eye, the heart and the mind.

    I see it as harmonising what I see - if I'm capable to see it -, what I feel, and how I translate it into a meaningful picture.
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  8. I agree with what's been said. The phrase 'mindful' (or contemplative or slow) photography springs to mind. Google tuns up various articles about this but in essence, I think that it means staying fully present in your surroundings and yourself 'in the present moment' without prejudice or judgment. Something I very rarely do btw!

    I think that @michaellinder is right that the step 'setting up a photo' (camera settings, etc.) can interrupt the flow of experience and perception. That's why some articles recommend just taking one-click photos with a phone or preset camera settings. And also just 'noticing' when walking without even taking a camera along.

    I remember watching this YouTube video of portrait photographer Platon. Although he has a professional team and setup he always somehow stays 'in the flow'. Both in his engagement with his subjects and in his photography.
  9. Agree that walking and noticing without a camera can be part of the photographic process, part of honing perception.

    Didn’t take Michael to be saying that setting up a photo was an interruption, but rather that was where some conception in addition to perception took place.

    Rather than interrupting the experience, it is the experience.

    I tend to consider the flow to be when perception and conception at least to some extent seamlessly merge, when the process of taking a picture (which, for me, includes manual exposure adjustments) just becomes part of me. It’s not like I really separate what I’m seeing from what I’m doing. It’s that the two become part of the same act, the act of taking a picture.

    In other words, taking a picture (with all that entails whether my setting is on auto or manual) is what’s flowing at the time. Photography is more than seeing, but it doesn’t distract me from seeing. As a matter of fact, it often seems to enhance it.

    Seeing and photographing can be symbiotic.
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  10. And then there are those pictures of which it may be said:

    "Argh, Cannot unsee"
    Last edited: May 17, 2022
  11. Thinking in practical terms I have my camera in my hands, the settings are normally set, as I expect uniform lighting. The lens cap is off (in my pocket). Since I never change camera, I know the direction of rotation of the aperture ring, the speed dial and the focus position by instinct. By now I also approximately know the frame of each focal length. When I spot something everything is quite fast, sometimes too fast and I force myself to slow down, a few seconds more won't change anything.

    The real issue I have, at least at the moment, is being in a photographic state of mind, which means thinking photographically without really realising it. It doesn't help if I just look around recording what I see around me without a photographic intent, which should be there and should be subliminal.
  12. Hi Sam,

    I like your phrase "where some conception in addition to perception took place". I fully agree with all your words on 'the flow'.

    However (just based on my own experience) there are times when I'm just walking around and fully open to my surroundings and my mood when something catches my eye. I might quickly adjust the frame (feet/zoom) and aperture but - as you say - this doesn't bring me out of the 'flow' of being where I am and what I find interesting about whatever is in the frame. So taking photos does enhance 'seeing'. I'm not fixated on the photo or getting a 'perfect shot', just capturing whatever interests me.

    There are other times (on 'voluntary assignments') when I'm much more focused on getting 'good' shots. I stay aware of whatever is going on (at a performance, market, meeting, interview, etc.) but my 'flow' is much more photographic and more intentional/deliberate. I take almost all my 'people photos' in a burst mode of 4-7 shots with the intention of selecting just one from any 'burst' that best captures movements and expressions. This is probably my version of 'conception in addition to perception'. For these subjects/situations, I have a good idea in advance about the kind of photos I want to capture. Things change so I have to be flexible. Still, changing lenses (zoom focal lengths) 'on the fly' does temporarily bring me out of the 'flow'.

    I suspect (but I have no evidence) that some amateur photographers do tend to get fixated on 'taking great photos' in a certain style at the expense of being truly open to whatever their surroundings have to offer.

    And I agree that "Seeing and photographing can be symbiotic".

    FWIW, I yesterday took some photos at a weekly 'Fit For Life' session: Fit for Life is a local program that encourages and enables 'seniors' to retain their fitness and mobility. It was a wonderful experience! Most participants were 65+ and a few were 90+. I joined in (aged 67 years) with the 'warming up' (10 mins) and I was tired and sweating towards the end! My intention was to capture their enthusiasm and pleasure as participants through 'action photos'. For me, this photoshoot was a good example of 'conception in addition to perception'. During the session. I had a 'concept' (action photo) in mind but I still had to remain constantly aware of what was going on.

  13. I’ve sometimes thought that trying to get a “good” shot could be for me a distraction from actually getting one. Recently, I’ve updated that a little.

    That voice in my head encouraging making good photos is still there sometimes, probably more in the background with each passing year than it used to be. And I’ve noticed that, lately, some of what I think of as my keepers (rare and special) actually feel like accidents. But I’m thinking they only feel like accidents because that voice in my head turned off for the moment and I didn’t have my usual grounding at play, my usual way of guiding the photo to goodness. So, it may not have been accident kicking in so much as inspiration and at least somewhat more honed instinct. The photos felt like accidents because they didn’t feel as much like what I’ve typically known. But they just may feel a little more like I felt. Goodness replaced by Samness.

    Letting go is not the same as giving up. Letting go doesn’t mean I stop all thinking or forget all I that I know and have learned or planned. I think it’s just the whirlwind of it all coming together.
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  14. I don't think my initial intention is to get a "good" shot. The mysterious alchemic combination of gut feeling, experience, skill, emotion, intention makes me try to use what I see to communicate something. And the result may be staying or leaving the charted paths we normally tend to walk, but probably this needs to be decided well ahead of starting to photograph.
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  15. PapaTango

    PapaTango I See Things

    I think that this question is about one's relationship with the world--and how they 'see' Note that my avatar line says "I See Things." Of this I consider myself a simple yeoman. Our social and individual predilections form what we see. The "smartphone" crowd rarely moves past the entire gestalt pastiche of the observed canvas--concentrating on the production of self-centered ephemera. Others, such as many here on PN, immediately recognize details, slices or characters that extend beyond the 'average' observance. I am drawn to Paul Strand's statement:

    "I referred to the use of the photographic means as a medium of expression in the sense that paint, stone, words and sound are used for such purpose. In short, as another set of materials which, in the hands of a few individuals and when under the control of the most intense inner necessity combined with knowledge, may become an organism with a life of its own...

    Now the production of such living organisms in terms of any material, is the result of the meeting of two things in the worker. It involves, first and foremost, a thorough respect and understanding for the particular materials with which he or she is impelled to work, and a degree of mastery over them, which is craftsmanship. And secondly, that indefinable something, the moving element which fuses with craftsmanship, the element which relates the product to life and must therefore be the result of the profound feeling and experience of life."

    You see it or you don’t. I have come to believe that the attribute is inherent to a person--and cannot be truly acquired by dedication or avocation. You engage with your technology as best it comforts you and your experience and ego. How you see it if you do determines whether it is “well seen” or just an interesting slice of reality that was accidental in its capture--and serendipitous in its intent.

    So is the ‘well seen’ a product of the photographer, of their audience, of a Vulcan mind-meld of them both, or of the medium itself?

    Or is it simply how it is curated and presented. Anyone?
  16. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    A forum where I rarely tread! Certainly, IMO, there is a valid attribute thought of as the photographer's eye, some more gifted than others, but many have it. Well Seen and Well Captured seem to me almost a handshake. You saw something of interest (well seen) and did a good, attractive, technically proficient photo. To me, well captured implies an added degree of difficulty and recognition of the particular skills required, birds in flight, extreme close up, etc., etc. Possibly I am wrong, but both are a recognition of skills and outcomes. Nearly always very fine photos, but IMO, something short of what would elicit a "Wonderful", and a twinge of envy.
  17. I’d adapt Ansel Adams here and say something like, the photo or body of work is the score and the curation or presentation is the performance. Presentation is part of the realization of the work itself.
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  18. Perspective might help answer this. In photography, perspective relates first to the idea of physically rendering something two-dimensionally, giving a sense of its length, width, depth, size, position, etc. Second, perspective relates to point of view.

    So, the photographer’s point of view may be distinct from but also share a lot with the viewer’s. Any photo has (or lacks) the power to close or open the gap between the photographer’s and the viewer’s perspective. A photographer can invite a viewer to share their perspective (and be more or less successful in doing so) while also inviting a viewer’s imagination to go on a personal journey launched by the photo but not much controlled beyond that. When many viewers react similarly to a photo and find their imaginations traveling fairly similar paths, the photo would seem to have a stronger controlling effect.

    Significantly, it’s not like math that often has a right answer and a foundation in proof.

  19. Sure, but our relationship with the world is a) not astatic one (the world changes, we change); b) it depends on our effort to move our perception from receptive to creative, translating it into visual genesis.
    And to make sure that there is an ever-evolving connection between a) and b).

    Since we are in the mood of quoting:
    I wouldn't see it in a binary way. Seeing is also a matter of experiencing and learning to see. Of course one may hit the limits of capability.
    If we go beyond subjectivity there is a whole world behind the statement "well seen".
    As Bruno Munari said:
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  20. Key observation. +1
    I think of the receptive-creative dynamic as a dialogue. In the case of folks like Walker Evans and Gordon Parks, I get a strong sense that their creativity doesn’t move on from or translate from receptivity but that that photographic receptivity is an inseparable part of the creativity. Their creativity lies in the voice, style, and depth of engagement with which they’re able to present what’s received.

    Photography is unique in what and how it receives from the world, the directness of it. Even in the most creative and imaginative of photos, there can be a documentary aspect as the foundation. So, I think what is received, to very varying degrees depending on the work, is often if not always looming as an aspect of the creative.

    There have been movements in photography that seek to create as little as possible and receive as much as possible. Those movements don’t currently dominate photography as they once did, but they still inform it and the reasons for them are still significant, understandable, and relatable.

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