Every now and then, after looking at one of my photographs, someone will ask me how I "see." It's meant as a compliment -- they like the image and are curious what I was seeing and thinking when I took it. It's a good question but hard to answer. When I'm taking pictures, I try to view the world in a way that's different from how you and I normally see things. In fact, I have to consciously switch into what I'll call "raw mode" by tricking my brain into dialing down two of the key features that we all use all the time when looking at the world.
The first is like disabling the facial recognition feature on my phone's camera. I stop seeing faces or people or even "things." Nothing has a name. Nothing has meaning. Everything is just lines, shapes, edges, colors, highlights and shadows. Buildings appear as geometric patterns, clouds are textures and water lilies are pastel dabbles of color.
The second change requires dampening the brain's strong bias towards things in the center of our vision. I slightly unfocus my eyes so everything in my field of view is equally important. Peripheral vision, largely tuned out by the brain until needed, kicks into high gear so details on the perimeter become as interesting as those in the center.
Raw mode is a little like daydreaming back in third grade. The teacher is talking but you only hear sounds. The blackboard is just a rectangle enclosing squiggly lines. The window on the left is as visually important as the girl sitting in front of you.
Warning: driving a car or wandering busy sidewalks while in raw mode is a really bad idea! Stop signs don't say stop and storefront windows aren't glass barriers, so someone is likely to get hurt!
This week's photo "Projections" is a good example of an image created in raw mode. At the time, I didn't see a woman's hat or dress or shoulder. It's maybe a little hard to imagine but all I saw were lines, edges, textures, shadows and colors.
I'm not sure if this is a gift or a curse. ;-) In fact, I'm not sure if others can even "see" this way. If you're game, give it a try -- stop reading, relax, let your mind wander, embrace the edges and stop thinking about what's in front of you. It might take a little practice, but you could start seeing the world in a whole new light!