“Many of us have made our world so familiar that we do not see it anymore. An interesting question to ask yourself at night is, What did I really see this day?”
― John O’Donohue , from Anam Cara: A book of Celtic Wisdom
What did I really see today?
When I’d been taking photographs for a year or so, I thought the mere act of carrying my camera and recording my days on digital media qualified me as a person who sees her world. I thought I was one up on this quest.
I spent my day looking, assessing, finding the perfect subject for a perfect photograph. I didn’t leave the memory card in the camera, or file it away on my computer. I meticulously sorted and processed the images; I shared the ones with which I felt a connection. First I shared my photos on Flickr. Eventually I printed my photographs and sent them out into my world. It was a beginning, I think it was a very good beginning.
I looked closely at my world, documented the wave of a flower’s petal, or the lines of a historic building, or sun rays streaming through a forest falling upon the soft earth.
Then I read a quote by William Carlos Williams, the well-known poet, who said he always carried a note card in his pocket, even after years of observation and years of writing a visually intense style of poetry. He had a habit of writing down “something new” he had noticed that very day.
Williams’ statement reminded me that observation should never become complacent. Simply because I take a few photos every day does not make me an observer of my world. I fulfill that call when I practice slow photography. When I sit with a subject, examine it, perhaps journal about it, even watch other people who interact with the same subject.
When I observed and then photographed the agave plant featured above, I observed not only the plant, but the microcosm surrounding it and its habitat, even its interaction with other creatures, be they insect, animal, or human.
The agave is a desert plant that is imbedded with desert lines. The plant, with its sharp teeth and spikes, is so tightly compressed before it opens that imprints of a leaf’s outline are left on the adjoining leaves. It is a favorite of mine.
Some days, I observe not only the agaves, but also the people who stop to look at them. I listen as they comment about its sharp spike or its wicked teeth along the edges of its leaves. Only rarely does someone notice the lovely imprints of the agave’s outline on the front and back of each leaf.
Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is exploring creative photography and emotion in a series called Desert Lines – a combination of visual lines and written lines.