The Gift of Seeing

Jailhouse Reflections

The other day, my friend Suzette commented:  “How do you see this way?”

I have been thinking about that question ever since. How and why do I see the things I see? Why do my internal filters hone in on the things they do? Why am I sensitive to certain visual stimuli, while ignoring others?

The thing is – I ask myself the same question about Suzette’s work, as well as the work of all of you. How do you see what you see? And then capture it in such a way that I gasp in amazement and shake my head in wonder at the world as seen through your eyes. (And if I am completely honest – there is also a tiny stab of envy at what you can do that I can’t; what you see that I don’t.)

I don’t really have an answer to Suzette’s question. My own “seeing”, what I choose to put within the frame, is often mysterious and magical and intuitive. It is also a building-up process – each time I notice a shadow, that interplay of light and shade, or turn my lens on the distorted refractions of a reflection or gaze upward at majestic architecture, I become more and more attuned to finding those things everywhere I look, in whatever direction I turn.

What I do know for sure – when we enjoy the work of others, photography provides the opportunity to temporarily see as others do; to literally experience the beauty of the world through the eyes of another.

And what a gift that is to give each other, isn’t it?


And speaking of gifts, the above image was taken at the Ohio State Reformatory, a historical prison, during a recent photo walk with my online (and now in-person friend) Deb Tisch, of Learning as I Go. Next week, for May’s edition of the Third Thursday Challenge, I will write more about my first-ever joint photo-walk experience.

What will your challenge be? Remember – there are no rules; simply share with us whatever scares you or challenges you or intrigues you. You and your art will be better for it – as will all of us who will be inspired by your journey.


Posted on May 9, 2013, in Photography and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Well for me I really loved what you saw, an amazing image and never would have thought it was in the setting you said. That is a really interesting topic and one worth going into more within myself. That is what I like about this type of creative experience is that no one person will see the same thing. I was in painting classes for around 10 years and we would be painting the same thing each week in class but as we would walk around the room to view what each had done it was always amazing what we saw and the other person didn’t see. The same with photography and I think by this we strive to work a little harder to see the world. Good topic.

    • Barbara – thanks so much for you thoughtful reply and the sharing of your own experience with creative seeing. We take our own “seeing”, our own unique view of the world for granted, don’t we? Because it is simply the way we interact with the world around us. It is through photography, where we capture and hold that vision, that we can understand how special it is. And by studying the work of others, participate in the way they, in turn, see the world – and be opened up by their unique vision. It’s rather a nifty trick that photography gives us, isn’t it? This ability to see as others do as well as appreciate our own creative seeing.

  2. Another interesting shot, beautiful lines and light. Looking forward to hearing (& seeing) more of your photo walk.

    • Leanne – if you are a fan of peeling paint and rust, touring this historical prison was the place to be. I have never seen so much disintegration in a place for public viewing. It is a popular location for ghost walks and Halloween activities as you might imagine. Deb and I were both stunned at how small and claustrophobic the cells were.

  3. How cool that you and Deborah got to meet in person. One of the most rewarding things that’s happened to me in the blogosphere was my “in person” connection with Lee-from Sea Blue Lens. I’m sure this will be a growing relationship if it’s anything like my experience. I was very sad when Leon moved to CA. I still miss her a year later.

    As for what you see-it’s always amazing to me, because I rarely see the way you do, BUT sometimes when I’m out I see something-usually shadows-and I wonder “what would Brenda do with this?” Lately I’ve been thinking that my eye, my style isn’t saying anything unique or different. Maybe it’s hard for me to be objective about my own work. Still looking for that eye I guess.

    As for this image, I love the doubling of the reflections, the arches, the light fixture, the lines. There’s a technique in music called doubling that also appeals to me. Hmmmm, wonder what that means if anything at all. Thanks for helping me wake up my brain this morning.

    • Susan – I know! I thought of you and Lee – the friendship you forged in-person – as Deb and I made our preparations to meet. I am continually thankful for this technology that allows me to “meet” people like you – people who, because of geography, I would never have the opportunity to connect with otherwise. But there is something special about meeting face-to-face and I am grateful for that opportunity.

      I think we are all amazed at what others see and what they bring to life behind the lens. I think being exposed to those different viewpoints can help us grow – can open us up to beauty that we had never considered. I agree that it is difficult to be objective about one’s own work and style. And therefore, it may seem as if we don’t have a unique eye. But I think that just the fact that it was “you” who took a particular photograph makes that image unique.

      I like this idea of doubling – one of the reasons I am so enamored with reflections is because of that layering – making the viewer wonder exactly what they are seeing.

  4. Hello,

    I don’t know what to say, but I’m glad to have asked the question and appreciate your kind comment. I understand that feeling…a bit of envy…and honestly, sometimes it gets in my way of finding my own creativity, but not for too long though because I see things that I’m driven to photograph…even as simple as some of my images are…the curve of the sidewalk or red dirt roads intersecting the horizon…somehow I am moved by what I see.

    And you’re right too…through photography, we are blessed to see through someone else’s eyes, whether or not they are a fully trained photographer. You would think by sharing our view of things…our lives, our families , our neighborhoods, our hopes and dreams…that we’d find more peace in the world.

    And, by the way, the photograph is stunning on so many levels! :o)

    Have a great day!

    • Suzette – I wanted you to know that I look at your work and feel the same amazement that you express at mine. That I adore (and envy) what you see and capture – by the things that move you. We are all gifted by what we give each other – our unique vision. And every time we send it out in the world, I think (hope) it does make a small positive difference in the world. Thank you for asking the question and for participating in the discussion.

  5. I think we all have different ways of seeing, and with the camera we can share our unique visions — that’s one of the blessings of photography. Your (usual) style is very identifiable, Brenda. You’ve really helped me see the beauty in the abstract. Like Susan, I feel that I haven’t found my special “eye” and sometimes I get very frustrated with my own lack of a style. Your image today is incredible — I never would have guessed it was taken in a prison.

    • Gina – sometimes I think it is hard to see our own work for what it is – unique and individual. You definitely have a “style”. I just think some photographers have a broad range of subjects in which they are interested – they want to explore many different ideas in their art. But the “you-ness” is always there.

  6. Brenda,

    I love this image with all it’s reflected light. Your image makes that place take on a whole new look for me, as I see it through your eyes, through your lens. I now see the beauty of that one little place there, thanks to the fact that you captured this.

    As I continue to develop my skills with a camera and learn more about myself through images I capture, I’m discovering my own limits. And this is a good thing. I now know that what I see is greatly influenced by my own life, my history, my preferences. And I recognize that the same holds true for all of us who ever hold up a camera and click the shutter.

    I’ll probably never get an abstract architectural image anywhere near like what you share with the world. It’s okay, too, because I know we are all unique.

    So, please keep on doing what you are doing, ’cause I love looking at the world you see through your lens!

    • Deb – you are so right – we are all influenced by the sum of our experiences – the ones that make us who we are. And who we are is reflected in the way we see and capture the world around us. And that is such a good thing – because it means that what we share is unique. And in turn, we are moved by the vision of others – a vision that may be so different from our own – which then expands our horizons. That is one of the great lessons I took from our photo walk – the two of us shooting in the same physical space, yet the resulting images are beautifully different. And that is so very good.

  7. Love that you and Deb got together in real life…:-)!!! And – as for seeing – isn’t it true that we all see differently..and each one of us has a unique and beautiful vision??? Love the reflections and light in this one. Well seen – YES!!!

    • Marcie – As an introvert, it was a wonderful (and scary) experience – but one I am so glad I took. And yes, that is the inherent joy in photography – putting our own unique vision out there and then being moved by the vision of others, so different from our own.

  8. It is simultaneously humbling, exhilarating, and challenging to be able to enjoy the work of other creatives. And, as I’ve said before, I appreciate the thoughtful commentary you include with most of your posts as well as in your replies to those who leave comments. All this adds to the richness of a visit to your site.

    • Wanda – you have captured so well what I was trying to say – it is complicated and emotional, isn’t it? There are the inevitable comparisons – even though we know that doing so is not in our best interest. But the exhilarating part is the amazement and joy that each of you bring me as I see the world through your eyes – shaking my head in wonder, asking “How does she see that?”

  9. I think we each have our unique gifts and vision, and also that we tend to discount our own because to us, it just IS us. My daughter and I have talked about this often. It seems that the qualities and talents that others admire the most about us are the ones we most take for granted because they are so natural to us. We tend to think anyone could do it, whatever “it” is. And so everyone looks at what everyone else does in astonished admiration. Actually, I think that’s pretty nice…as long as we remember that we do have our own gifts, and they are special, too.

    • Lee – I should have contracted with you to write this post – you have captured exactly the point I was trying to make. How we don’t recognize our own special “seeing”, our own unique talents, as anything special – because they are just part of who we are. And we are often blind to or discount our own gifts. Thanks so much for adding your wisdom to the discussion.

  10. Magnifiques reflections, j’aimerai beaucoup shooter dans une prison !
    Bonne journée 😉

    • Olivier – taking photographs in such an amazing location was such an amazing opportunity. I have never been in a place with so much peeling paint and rust. It was texture-lover heaven.

  11. I love seeing what you see, Brenda, and am always amazed. I learn from you.

    The online photography community sometimes seems small and intimate and it’s always great to meet people in person that you have only known online. I had that experience at my Bethany Spring retreat, meeting Mary Lynn who had taken several of my classes. What a treat.

    • Kim – right back at you! 🙂 I am continually grateful for the technology that allows our online photography community to exist – the opportunity to exchange ideas and art with like-minded people the world over. And for the fact that it also created the chance to meet Deb in person – what a treat!

  12. This is one of your more complex and intricate images. You cram a lot into it, layers over layers of lines, shapes, colors, light, shadow. I can see the bars of the jail.
    You write that your process is often “mysterious and magical and intuitive.” I like that, but can’t expand on it at the moment.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about your process. I completely agree that sharing what we see through our camera lenses is a gift to the world.

    • Anita – you are certainly one of those artists who I hold in astonished amazement – asking the “how does she see like that?” question whenever I view your work. You give me that gift – of seeing the world through your eyes, showing me things I would not have seen otherwise.

  13. A feast for the eyes!!

    • Lisa – it was a very contradictory experience – finding beauty at a former prison. The atmosphere was desolate as you considered the building’s purpose. But then there was the light and the lines of the bars and the disintegration of rust and peeling paint – and it became something else entirely.

I greatly appreciate your comments!

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