I was out with one of my dawn workshops a few weeks back teaching and chatting and demonstrating and I found myself alone for a moment; everyone had found something to shoot, so there I was with just my camera and the rising sun in a small park next to a church. I had been here before. Many times. A shimmer a few yards away caught my eye and disappeared as I got closer. I realized I had seen the reflected light from a snail trail. I found it again as I got closer and took a shot. Then I found another nearby. Got that one too. Then another. Twenty minutes later I look up and everyone had gone. I’m sure they were with Nick.
Finding those snail trails is what I consider to be mini-seeing project. Think of them as a little portfolio you can grow over weeks, months or years even. I’ve done peoples bellies, weeds in cracks, street arrows (a la my favourite photographer Ernst Haas). I have a colleague who likes to shoot abandoned couches and can see them around corners (must have something to do with smell.). Doors, windows, mean dogs and fluffy cats are also under his purrrview… The point is to search for them! And in searching you will learn to “See”.
One way to understand what Seeing is is to view the world around you in a way that is totally unnecessary to your survival. To use your eyes in a creative manner and not for catching the bus, not stepping off the cliff, avoiding the speeding courier or generally staying alive. And it takes practice – not the survival part(you’ve learned that already or you wouldn’t be reading this) but the “seeing” part. Mini-projects can be that practice.
When you purposefully increase your concern for something then your brain will reward you by growing that part of it that helps you to “see” creatively. Once it’s in your range of concern you will notice that it’s been all around you already, only now you’re noticing it. Ever had a friend who bought a new car and now you see that car all the time! Something like that.
So choose something. Start looking for it. Put effort into finding it…and a little more effort and compose a great shot!
When I found the group again(I knew where were headed to the bagel shop) I showed them my new mini-project of my snail trails. They thought they were pretty cool, so did I, not because they were great shots or anything, but because you could only find them in a tiny angle of reflection at a certain time of day.