Learn to see….

Before you learn to take a good photograph you have to learn to see. This may sound a bit ‘new age’ but bear with me.

When teaching at Birmingham City University, I decided to take the Visual Design students on a walking trip around the city centre of which they were so familiar, to teach them to see it in a new way. If you live or work in a city you most likely spend most of your time staring at the pavement, LOOK UP!!!! There is sooo much to see!!! I see photographs in EVERYTHING.

We had a great day walking around the city, one of the exercises that we did was the students were encouraged to stand still and be ‘present’ in the moment, inhibiting at least one of their other senses (sound works well) and allow the visual stimuli to dominate. Making a conscious effort to see. It was incredible to see how such a simple exercise brought new visual awareness to so many of the students….and many members of the public that had tagged onto our tour!! 

The human brain is designed to filter out most of the visual information that our eyes see, this process is known as selective filtering or selective attention. Meaning what our conscious and unconscious brain ‘sees’ is very different. Anybody who is a fan of @DerrenBrown will know about how he manipulates the subconscious brain in his work, emphasising particular visual signs seen by the subconscious brain (but not logged by the conscious) to ‘plant’ messages or ideas. The key to helping yourself become a more ‘conscious creative’ is to harness this yourself. People who are more ‘naturally’ creative, have this ability ‘built-in’, they see more! The way the light falls on a chimney breast or on a face, they see the texture of the brick wall that they walk past, where perhaps these details would normally be bypassed by others. This does not mean that you are at a disadvantage because you are not a ‘natural,’ creative. You can learn to see differently. 

The term #mindfulness is used a lot at the moment. It is now recognised as a technique to improve mental health by the NHS, but I’ve been teaching this technique for years in my lectures!!

The NHS says “mindfulness” is ‘paying more attention to the present moment, to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you, to improve your mental wellbeing.’

Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says you should notice the ‘everyday’, “Even as we go about our daily lives, we can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk. All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the ‘autopilot’ mode we often engage day to day…..”

Overcoming this ‘autopilot’ will allow you to improve your visual awareness.

See beauty in the way colours compliment each other or contrast in an environment to create emphasis, see the tonal range within one leaf, see the humour or irony in a social situation in the same way as Elliot Erwitt, see the quirky nature of human condition like Martin Parr, see the sensual nature of the shape and form of everyday objects like Guy Bourdin…..SEE!! 

Image credit: Elliott Erwitt


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