In Eger this weekend, I was struck by how many of us walk with our heads down, looking at the pavement. Or with eyes front, looking ahead. And then there are the few whose heads sit upon their necks like periscopes; they’re the ones who notice things. Odd things, like shop signs that are above eye level. It made me stop and think of the GB Shaw quote: The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven’t got it. Now, I know he wasn’t thinking about this type of observation – but it came into my mind nonetheless. Maybe it was the owl that did it – that strange mix of wisdom and night vision… mmmm… why am I associating GB with owls I wonder?
When I went in search of a more meaningful quote, I came across this one by photographer Elliott Erwitt: To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them. I have a vague recollection of reading a book about Venice in which the author reckoned cameras should be banned from the city and instead, people should look, really look, and enjoy in the now instead of looking for a photograph to admire later. There is something in that, I suppose. Yet I think that having a camera in your hand makes you look at things you wouldn’t ordinarily see and makes you see what you see in a totally different light.
I bought my digital camera when I was in Hawaii back in 2008 and since then, it’s been like another arm. I might take 100 rubbish photos for every decent one I get – and I find myself getting frustrated, not with the weather because it is hot or cold, but because it affects the light. And yet I can say, hand on my heart, that in the last four years, I’ve become a lot more observant. I notice things now that I wouldn’t have noticed before. And I save myself a fortune in therapy fees by identifying obsessions before they begin to wreak havoc on my life. I now go to photo exhibitions and get a real pleasure out of seeing other people’s work. I know that I still have one foot firmly planted on the point-and-click rung on the photography ladder yet I like to think that my appreciation of the ordinary, the mundane, has grown in leaps and bounds – and for this, I am truly grateful.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52