When I asked you all to think about how your life would be different without photography many of you mentioned — in one way or another — how much more observant working with the camera makes you. I doubt there is a photographer out there who would argue with the basic premise that visual perception is enhanced through the practice of looking through a viewfinder and experiencing the world from the other side of a lens. Undoubtedly, the process of photographing forces us to slow down. It makes us more deliberate about and aware of our experiences.
But that got me to thinking: What does the process of looking at photographs do for us? How does it change our perception and understanding of the world? Does it expand our horizons — or replace our own vision (or imagination) with that of someone else? Does the effect differ based on the “type” of viewer? Perhaps a skilled and practiced photographer will have a different experience from that of an enthusiast. Perhaps a true patron of the art will have a different experience than that of a casual observer. Does the context in which the photo is displayed or viewed make a difference? Gallery vs. computer screen vs. magazine. Feature vs. advertisement. Does it matter whether the photo is one of your own creation or the product of someone else’s vision?
I’m keen to carefully consider photography from the viewer’s perspective. I’d like to share all my thoughts on the subject with you, but (1) I’m still collecting them, (2) I’d rather start a discussion, and (3) I’m copping out a little because I’ve got one of those really annoying springtime colds and I need to get some sleep.
So let’s do this: Take a few minutes to thinking about one or more of the questions I’ve posed. You might also consider how looking at photographs has influenced your art, life, and your relationships, if at all. Has is changed your sense of place or belonging? Has it had an effect on your values? Your priorities? Your dreams or goals? Are there any particular photos that really had a profound and lasting effect on you?