Welcome back to Curious Frame. I have many thoughts on photography and how images affect us. Curious is a complement to my Shoot New York City newsletter which is where I write about street photography and the activity of shooting.
Do you think about how images enter our minds without our permission and in an almost subliminal manner? How do we make sense of it all is a topic that is always top of mind for me.
You can see all of the issues for Curious Frame here in the archives and also on the Substack app which is a great method of reading the mewsletter at your leisure. It took a lot of work to reformat it to Substack, so it’s possible that not all of the links work properly.
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Images in Passing
I’m sitting in a train, staring out the window at things passed by. Buildings, signs, a cloudless sky. the repetition of things repeats.
Mesmerized, a few minutes pass and I am no longer conscious of those things in my line of vision. Rather, I’m lost in thought.
So many images seen in a single day. Which ones will be remembered? All the words read, sentences said and even the occasional music entering into the mix. A typical day of sensory stimuli. Perhaps overload.
Does the mind record it all? Do we only notice the things that are familiar? Or perhaps only those things that look out of place? Have you stopped to acknowledge those things that grab your attention?
I am constantly focused on the thing that doesn’t belong there. It’s how I’m hardwired. On Sesame Street they had a game which I believe was called one of these things doesn’t belong here.
Anyway, that’s what I naturally see. However, the first things that the eye is attracted to are shiny things. sexy things. Yes, sex sells, see Issue 5 and never underestimate the power of color. Sometimes we see things first because we smell them. Other times we turn to see what made a noise.
But when we really notice something, can it also have a deeper meaning? We have superficial vision like most tourists that visit NYC. We see the top layer, bright lights, big city. We also have the ability to cut out the distractions and really look at something. Yes, it takes time to stop and look.
All these images that pass by, the ones that leave a trace in the mind. Why do they have an effect on us? Sorry, I’ve never been good at asking the simple questions.
Are there shards of images in our mind that we would prefer hadn’t entered? Are we being polluted with images that are having an effect on us that we don’t yet know of?
I am happy that I don’t like all the images I see. It would be even more difficult to give attention to images if they were all equally worthy. ‘Wouldn’t it be a real drag if we were all the same.’
I don’t propose that any of the important questions have yes or no answers. Perhaps the best of life, like photography is in the nuance. We are afterall, living in a postbinary world. It’s no longer important to be one or the other.
Curious Frame exists to ask questions about the images that we are bombarded with on a daily basis and what we should think about them. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear about how images affect you.
Arthur Lipsett was an avant garde filmmaker who worked at the NFB in Canada. He used scraps found on the editing room floor to create this and a number of other short films. This piece, Very Nice, Very Nice has been a favorite for many years and it was nomnated for an Academy Award. It was made in 1961 and it is experimental.
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Interesting observations about observations, and images.
Have you ever noticed how seeing from a train is so much dependent on where you sit?
When you are sitting facing towards the front of the train, images suddenly appear and disappear before you can see them consciously. Only afterwards you sometimes realize what you saw.
When you are sitting facing the rear of the train, images still appear suddenly but you can continue observing until they disappear in the distance.
Photography sometimes is similar, especially on the street: sometimes you have to quickly react and take an image only to be able to check what you actually got later. Sometimes we are able to work a scene and observe a developing situation, reflect on it and consciously create the image that best describes what we want it to.
How do you work best?