Discover Challenge: WITNESS

This week’s Discover Challenge:

“Who is your witness? Who sees you when you write (or draw, or snap a photo)? Do you ever imagine anyone observing you, whether over your shoulder or from across the room? Whether it’s a person, an animal, an inanimate object, or something else entirely, publish a post — in prose or in verse, or in any non-textual medium you love working in — about it/them/her/him.”

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When I read this challenge, this is the photo that immediately jumped into my mind:

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And I’ll tell you the reason (even though it makes me feel a little silly!)

The above shot was taken at a botanical garden this past weekend. We’re still just a tiny bit early here in Northern Virginia to expect a full-on springtime scene – and it was definitely still mainly buds rather than flowers that we saw, and not-very-green-yet grass. (I posted some of the pics I took in this post.) But there was some more vibrant color – mostly in the form of hyacinths and crocuses and daffodils. (You can see a stand of yellow daffodils in the background above.)

I admittedly was drawn most to the vibrantly colorful things. I love Spring! And I love color. And I’m just very ready to escape drab winter.

But somehow, regardless, I noticed this poor old brown plant (the one above.)

It’s not unattractive. I mean, I first noticed it because I thought the wispy white flowers looked like white butterfly wings (butterflies that had been through a storm, maybe, and had experienced some wing damage…but still, butterflies!) And I liked the contrast of the wispy white against the prickly brown. But it’s true that it really couldn’t hold a candle, beauty-wise, to almost everything else I saw through my lens that day.

But I took the photo anyway. And as I did so, a funny thing happened: I felt that it (the plant) was grateful. I felt like it knew that I was taking its portrait and that, in this really sweet and modest way, almost shy, it really, really appreciated being noticed.

I consciously thought this when I was taking the photo. I remember thinking it.

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And okay, go ahead and laugh, or raise your eyebrows, or roll your eyes – or all three! I don’t blame you! I know I sound a little…eccentric. I tend to not overthink things like that or otherwise judge myself when I’m in the act of taking pictures. When I’m in “photography head,” I just let things flow freely – whatever they are (even if they’re very “eccentric.”) Doing so is just part of the process for me – allowing myself to be open to pretty much anything. Which is part of why photography is such a great mindfulness tool for me.

And I wouldn’t have necessarily written this out, I wouldn’t have even copped to the fact that I think things like this, if it weren’t for the challenge (because I actually don’t seek reasons to sound so very eccentric!)

But as long as I am admitting it, I might as well be honest: I really did feel like that. I do feel a connection – a strong one – to the things I photograph. It’s a visceral, from-the-gut thing. It’s a stepping out of myself, out of the bonds of my personal space and my body and the limited perception that adhering to those closed environments necessitates, and intertwining with somebody or something else.

I’m not saying every photograph does this for me. But that, for me, is the difference between a snapshot and true photography. Anybody can hold up a camera and press a button – and sometimes you can even end up with beautiful images that way, or an effective document of an event.

But that’s not photography for me.

I’d like to be a good documentarian. And I love beautiful things. But what I want as a photographer is to know things: to fully immerse in my moments, and fully engage with the people that inhabit them with me – and the objects, too – and just…see what I see. Feel what I feel. Learn what I can learn.

That’s what photography is for me.

“When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them.”

~Annie Leibovitz

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One thing that’s become clearer to me the further I’ve gone into photography is that, while my perception – meaning, my ability to really see – plays a very large part in my ability to create photographs that satisfy me, perception isn’t all of it.

The rest of the photograph is made via the witness to my perception that my subjects give – through the very act of being my subjects.

In other words, it’s profoundly true that:

“A photograph is not made in the camera, but on either side of it.”

~Edward Steichen

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So, the ultimate answer to the question of “who is my witness?” as a photographer? I think maybe it’s anybody (human or animal or object) I connect with through the medium of my camera.

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Last Sunday, that was primarily a brown, prickly plant adorned with wispy white petals.

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And some dancing daffodils.
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It was a lounging lion, carved from a tree stump.
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And four totem poles, too.

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If you haven’t checked out the new Discover Challenge (from WordPress’s Daily Post) yet, you should do so!

I love the idea of a weekly challenge inspired by one of the Discover posts; that makes for a really interesting way of interacting with and re-considering the posts in the Discover section. And I really, really love that they’ve left it open for responses in a variety of mediums (text-based, photography, etc, etc.) I like the creative openness that allows.

Here’s the description, if you’re interested!

 

 

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