Many Ways to See

arboretum ceiling

For me, SDAWP Photo Voices is all about noticing as much as possible. If I miss seeing something, I might miss an opportunity to take an interesting photograph. Once an object catches my eye, I look at it from all angles. I observe it from above and below. I take several shots from a variety of perspectives while considering the light and background. Even though I feel like I am paying close attention to what I see, I wonder what I miss.

A favorite photo of mine from my week with angles was taken at the San Diego Botanical Building in Balboa Park. I have visited the beautiful arboretum numerous times over the years and have taken many pictures there, but I have always focused on the plants. As I wandered through the lush greenery, I was thinking about angles, and the building itself began to captivate me.

I looked up as I walked around the planter in the center pavilion. I noticed the umbrella of enormous ferns that grew overhead, but I didn’t want to capture the plants. I wanted to find an angle that would allow me to photograph the simple structure of the building without any distractions appearing in the foreground.

As other visitors were busy taking photos of their families against a backdrop of exotic plants, I sought the perfect vantage point to snap a picture of the trellised roof in order to highlight the patterns juxtaposed against the blue-sky beyond. I took many different shots and was happy with the one I chose to share on Instagram until this morning when I read a post on Brain Pickings entitled “The Art of Looking.”

Through her blog, Maria Popova introduced me to a book that already has me rethinking that photo as well as everything else I paid attention to while enjoying the Botanical Building. In On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, author Alexandra Horowitz describes several walks she took with experts in different fields who helped her view her neighborhood anew with each outing. She walked with an artist, a geologist, a sound designer and others who shared their own unique ways of looking. Each expert she walked with helped her see and appreciate familiar surroundings in new ways.

What would I have noticed while visiting the arboretum if I could have seen it through the eyes of an architect? What if I could have viewed the surroundings through the eyes of a botanist who studies orchids or bromeliads? What would I have observed through the eyes of an artist carrying a sketchbook instead of a camera?

What would I have seen then?

I would like to be more attuned to all the different ways of seeing and begin to observe like an expert in a particular field would, but how can I go beyond seeing with a photograph in mind? I am not an architect nor am I botanist. I am simply an amateur photographer who enjoys capturing interesting images.

Horowitz’s conclusion helped me put it in perspective as she acknowledged that seeing is strenuous work. “There could be exhaustion in being told to look, to pay attention, to be here now….” She goes on to implore, “Do not sag from exhaustion. There is no mandate; only opportunity…. The unbelievable strata of trifling, tremendous things to observe are there for the observing. Look!

I will take her advice and will continue to look while striving to see in new and unique ways through my very own expert eyes.

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