Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Looking and seeing

Due to a variety of reasons - extended periods of ill health, family commitments, a fear of passport photo booths - I've done relatively little travelling in my life.

If travel broadens the mind, mine is probably the same width as the hair of a millipede's beard. But maybe a childhood absorbed by the BBC's Holiday program has somehow helped artificially extend my horizons.

The vast majority of people like to take photographs whilst on holiday - memories of friends and family to be forever cherished (or uploaded to Facebook to show everybody you know, just how much dignity you left at home). But if you're a photographer, you want to capture far more than an endearing but simple record of events.

If you're anything like me, you'll feel almost overwhelmed when visiting somewhere for the first time. Eyes opened afresh, surrounded by amazing new scenes, it can be hard to know where to point your camera next! Obviously this is a lovely position to be in. Your only concern is whether you've got enough memory with you to record all these new viewpoints.

But, don't think that frequent travel is an absolute must in order to take a continual stream of new pictures that you're happy with. Places that you're familiar with (perhaps even over-familiar) can also be a regular source of lovely photographs.

One of the greatest gifts that photography can give you is the development of a mindset, and the skill to see, an old place through new eyes. This can result in some observations that may make you gasp with astonishment as you suddenly notice, for example, the beautiful details in the facade of a building that you've walked past a hundred times before. As the seasons change, so does the life within your environment. The only fixed certainty is that nothing is ever static.

I have taken many pictures in my home town (or city even - it's only small, but we have a whopping great cathedral) of Salisbury, that are a fresh look at old sights. Take this one for example:

This is the doorway to a house that is situated on one of Salisbury's busiest roads. I honestly couldn't begin to estimate how many times I've been past it, but given that it's on my way home, it must literally be well into the thousands of the 14,000 days I've been alive.

Our brains do a marvellous job of filtering out the non-threatening and irrelevant. If it didn't, we would probably become overwhelmed and crumple, especially given the sheer quantity of information that we are subjected to in these times. But turn this filter off for a while, and suddenly you're seeing things through the eyes of the artist.

For me, this is such an exciting thing, I want to share it with the world. Look everyone! Look at the secret face - once so proudly welcoming visitors to a grand entrance; now shyly peeping through the dirty glass only to those who choose to look.

What made this discovery even more remarkable for me was that I had taken photographs of this door a couple of times previously (the texture of the peeling paint and overall former grandeur of the entrance fascinated me) but never had I noticed the extra decoration. It was like that, by having given some attention to this old place, it rewarded me with a gift. And rather than seeing this in some faraway land, the thrill of being startled by the sudden appearance of a ghostly face peering out, is all the better for happening somewhere so familiar.


  1. I love your posts! :-)
    Laura xx

  2. This is beautiful Toby. I adore doors!
    Maggie x