I have been living just a few meters uphill from Le Moulin de la Galette, on Rue Lepic, in Montmartre for more than ten wonderful years. My atelier has large ‘vitrines’ on the street level and people from all over the world stop and say “Oh! Look at that windmill!” They take a snapshot, and immediately look away!
Walking around with their cameras, their mobile phones or iPads, they photograph every few steps, which isn’t very different from looking at the world through a keyhole! Psychologists and neurologists say that you will remember taking the picture, but not much of the wider experience itself.
If you see something amazing, go ahead and take a picture, but then forget your camera and turn looking into really seeing. Can you imagine a young man catching sight of a beautiful young woman, saying “Wow!” and then looking away?
That’s what people are doing with their surroundings all day long. They hold up equipment hiding their faces, interrupting social interactions which for thousands of years have been face to face.
Taking a picture should be just the beginning, not the end, of your delight in looking at something interesting. You turn looking into really seeing by being there with all your senses!
In my more than half a century of photography, – which I am guessing totals approximately 300,000 photographs, taken at 1/1000th of a second here, and 1/25th of a second there, and a lot of speeds in between- can you guess how much time I have invested in literally, mechanically, taking photographs? I believe all those split seconds total only about twelve minutes!
But before and after taking a photograph, I turn just looking into really seeing. There’s nothing to it. All you do is what people have done for thousands of years: pay attention to where you are, who you are with (or not), and what your surroundings feel like, sound like, smell like… and you will have not only interesting photographs, but living memories that can include photo albums, but do not depend on them. This is what most painters do as they stand and look and caress a canvas with brushes for a long, leisurely time, absorbing the scene.
In most cultures and religions it is believed that when one is dying life goes rolling by on the screen of imagination. If that happens to be true, do we want quick snapshots of this and that, or do we want memories of a sweetheart’s surprise kiss on the beach, climbing a mountain in the Colorado Rockies, and many other three-dimensional memories including how our feet felt on the ground, what the birds sounded like near the roaring waves of the ocean and friends laughing at a
That’s not to mention all the joys to be found here in Paris and all around France, where photography was invented!