Musings on Photography

Attention

Posted in process by Paul Butzi on December 20, 2009

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I’ve noticed an interesting thing while walking in the woods. Every so often, I stop and listen, and what I hear is silence. And then, as I continue to listen, I hear more and more. I hear birds, both close and distant, chattering away. I hear the rain dripping on the ground, and on the trees. I hear the wind, perhaps, sighing in the trees. It’s not that those noises weren’t there before I started listening, it’s that I wasn’t attending to them. Stopping and listening is an act of attention, and as you attend, the sounds emerge into your consciousness. It’s an inward event, not an outward one. The world is the same whether we pay attention or not.

I think this is true for all our senses. We rush along, not attending, and we don’t perceive. Driving along in our car, there are relatively few photos because we’re not attending. We’re listening to the radio, or we’re worrying about whether the propane tank is getting close to empty, and we’ve driven through this landscape a thousand times, and it just washes over us and doesn’t stick. When we stop, and stand still, and pay attention, slowly we start to see the photo possibilities all around us.

I’m left wondering how often I’ve stood in a spot, absolutely confident that there were no good photos to be made there, when I was actually standing on an excellent photo.

The bad news is that all too often, as Wordsworth put it, “for this, for everything, we are out of tune; it moves us not.” The good news is that we can fix it, just by paying attention. Stop. Look. Listen.

Kodak thinks this is funny. Stop, look, listen. That’s what he does, all the time. That, and take naps. Clever dog.

3 Responses

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  1. Doug Plummer said, on December 21, 2009 at 9:57 am

    I think my birdwatching has been useful for my landscape photography. Nothing gets you focussed in the moment as fast as trying to suss out the source of a sound that you’re trying to identify. It’s a too laser-beam attention to do much with a camera, however, so I find myself backing off and sensing my surroundings before I do any work with the camera. It’s like the neural net is booted up with a bird sound, and then I take command of the controls.

  2. mike said, on December 21, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    My friend Kaseza has two dogs and says they’re stopping to “read the newspaper” — to smell (read) who’s been here and there and what’s up.

  3. Paul said, on December 22, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    My dog is a Zen Master teaches me something new every walk!


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