Bios & Zoe: You need to lose your mind to truly see an image

November 15, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Many years ago, I was taught a concept that has really helped me as I struggle through the marketing and design life I find myself living. This concept basically says that sometimes the best inspiration for a particular concept can only be found by looking somewhere completely unrelated. Photographically speaking, inspiration for a photo composition may come to you when looking at sculpture, exploring paintings or standing at an ice cream counter. To this end, I was reading a book on creativity written by a choreographer (The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp) and came across a concept that applies very well to creating a photo that will be popular to a wide range of people. In short, the concept described the need to be able to step out of everything that makes you… you. You need to push back all of your memories, preconceptions and bias’, leaving only those things that are common to all or most people. You have to step out of the Zoe and into the Bios (if you’re into Greek philosophy)

If you can create an image and then take a step back, you can better see an image the way others might.

An example:

craftsbury commonCraftsbury CommonA walk into yesteryear

This is a picture of one of those famous little white churches sitting on a small commons in Northeast Vermont.

I took it… I experience it… but you didn’t. When I look at this image, my mind is filled with memories of turning of the main road, dropping down and across a beautiful farm valley with cows grazing. I remember driving up and out of the valley and coming onto an opening in the autumn trees that held this scene. I remember being disappointed to see that the grass area wasn’t empty and that there were obstacles that would keep me from taking the picture that was floating in my brain.

You see a church and some leaves framed between a fence and a tree.

I know that just to the right of the image is a small farmer’s market with people talking. I know that just to the left of me are parents watching three small children diving into, crawling through and emerging from the world biggest pile of leaves. Their laughter makes the whole place a little brighter. 

You see a church and some leaves framed between a fence and a tree.

I have to push all of these things back and look at the image like I was seeing it for the first time. I have to see a church and some leaves framed between a fence and a tree. How do the elements in the seen work on their own? Where does the contrast, sharpness and line lead my eye? Would I like it if someone else had taken it and now was showing it to me?

Now, I admit that a little white church on the commons, in the fall, Vermont is a bit of an icon so we all may have a bit of preconceived emotion attached to it but other images may not. We as photographic artist need to learn the visual tools available to us when composing. We need to understand how the human brain interprets the information our eyes send to it. We need to use this knowledge to take and process an image in a fashion that allows anyone to look at it and have an experience that is a little more complex than, ‘Oh, that’s nice’ or ‘like’.

Therein lies the challenge… and therein lies the fun.


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