What Did You Expect?

Janus, photograph

“We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there. We have been conditioned to expect… but, as photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs.”

Aaron Siskind

Photography has a unique quality, which is that the viewer usually starts with the assumption that the photograph represents what was really there. This gives the photographer greater freedom to challenge their viewers beliefs, to force them to “look twice”, as described in my last post.

As Siskind says, we have been “conditioned to expect” – it’s an ability which serves us well in navigating efficiently through our complex world. If we had to stop and carefully consider each situation we encounter, we’d get little done. With age and experience, we become better at knowing what to expect, which allows us to move more quickly, get more done.

It also causes us to overlook much of the sublime beauty and transcendent complexity of the world. One of arts finest attributes is it’s ability to provoke a more considered examination of the world. To create work that demands this, we must “relax our beliefs”, we must defer our own expectations lest they blind us. The attempt to do so forces us to relearn what we believe is there, allowing us to experience the beauty, the complexity that is too easy to overlook.

Even if we are unable to create art that has this effect on others, the effort to do so is it’s own reward. I wish everyone had the desire to create such art, not because there would be more great art to see, but because we’d all have greater appreciation for the world around us.

[By the way, on a technical note, the image above was captured in camera in a single exposure – talk about looking twice!]
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6 responses to “What Did You Expect?

  1. This seems to go hand in hand with my recent post. The “discovery” we make as either the image maker or image viewer will likely be greater if we “relax our beliefs” I’m glad you’ve shared this post as it gives me more to “chew” on with my own thoughts on discovery.

  2. I like Siskind’s phrase “relax our beliefs”. Not give the beliefs up and not hold the the beliefs so fast but allow them to open up a bit so as to accept what might not have been considered and thus went “unseen”. That phrase applies to so much in life and when practiced as a way to approach art can leave one stunned.

  3. hello. I have been away teaching a workshop and then returned home to some big deadlines in my studio and am slowly getting back to my favorite blogs. I see I have missed some goods ones here which I hope to get to. but love this current one– I so much agree with your writing– about going deeper and observing more and trying to create art that is personal to self and meaningful to viewer.

  4. I have often wondered what is it in an image that causes one to challenge one’s beliefs. Is it for the pure abstraction from reality, or showing the unexpected? What if there is a disconnection by the viewer because of lack of understanding or unrealizable subject matter?

    • Mark

      I understand the dilemma. There is a fine line between understandable and unrecognizable (unless you are going for pure abstraction). And it is a matter of taste – some viewers do not like being challenged by art, it’s not their objective in viewing it, and that’s ok too.

      For me, what is most interesting is a piece that is partially representational and partially abstract. I don’t want it all spelled out for me, I want to have to work a bit to either figure it out or complete the story in my own mind. I get more engaged that way which is more stimulating. The manner in which it deviates from straight reality may cause me to think about our common assumptions about the world.

  5. Aaron Siskind! Wow, that’s a flash from the past. I remember him from childhood, when we vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard, and he was there, in the little village of Menemsha.

    Love your recent work, Bob. I need to blog hop more regularly…

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