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Curious Frame - Issue #2

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #2
By Leanne Staples • Issue #2 • View online
Welcome to the 2nd issue of Curious Frame. Many years ago when I was in university, I took a class on Galileo. It was, to be clear, not a science class. Rather it was about studying some of his ideas and the impact that they have on the way that we think about and see the world that we live in.
The major thing that has really stuck with me all this time is that Galileo tried to get us to understand that the Sun does NOT revolve around the Earth. Alas, seeing is not always believing. But from our vantage point, it may appear to be the opposite of what it really is. It should be noted that Galileo paid dearly for this belief and asserting this as fact.
We have the opportunity to examine the images that we are confronted with on a daily basis. No, it’s not possible to understand all of them. However, we can choose to stop and look at the images that we are drawn to and question why? So, in this issue I discuss how Photography is a Language. We can learn to make sense of it enough to enter into a conversation about it.
I realize that it can often be difficult to read and understand writing about photography. It can get pretty thick at times and may require an advanced university degree to understand these theories. My aim is to always make the exploration of photography accessible to everyone. 
Your comments and questions are always welcome. And no, I don’t have an advanced degree in understanding all these theories. What I do have is my personal experience of being a photographer and artist for many decades. Coming to an understanding of photography and art shouldn’t feel like the taste of bitter medicine.

Photo from One, Two, Three, More by Helen Levitt, published by powerHouse Books.
Photo from One, Two, Three, More by Helen Levitt, published by powerHouse Books.
Photography is a Language
Photography is like learning a new language. In the beginning you are constantly aware of grammar, sentence structure, verb conjugations and vocabulary. We rarely think about why we speak the way we do by breaking down a sentence into its structure. We no longer need to.
The mechanics of language is very similar to that of the camera and creating photos. It takes awhile to learn the different parts of language that allow you to communicate smoothly and effectively. The same is true to become fluent in photography. The process of doing it and a little curiosity is all that is required.
Diamond Exchange, New York City, October 2017
Diamond Exchange, New York City, October 2017
Both of the 2 photos above illustrate a literal example of how photography can communicate without words. You are witness to an action in both photos even if it isn’t exactly clear what’s going on. You are free to decide for yourself what the photo means. There isn’t one correct answer. 
If you are compelled by these photos to wonder what’s going on, then the photos have served a purpose. It isn’t about determining the Truth in them. If nothing else, the act of viewing photos should always engage our curiosity and imagination.
This is the beauty of photography. Meaning is in the eye of the beholder. This is unlike language which has a tendency to describe things in a rather cold scientific factual manner where there is little room for interpretation. 
Written and spoken language can easily lead us into believing that binaries are reality and that most things can be neatly divided into one category or another. Female/male, black/white etc. etc. Of course, these divisions do not provide a very realistic picture of the world. 
At the Coffee Shop, New York City, April 2019
At the Coffee Shop, New York City, April 2019
Helen Levitt was quoted as saying “Since I’m inarticulate, I express myself with images.” To be certain, Levitt was not inarticulate, she was merely expressing the idea that language can never truly provide one definitive meaning of images that are portrayed in photography and art. 
There’s always more going on in the mind than what can be reduced to words. Each person who views an image will come away with a different story about the meaning of it. This is true both of the process of viewing an image as well as creating an image and this is particularly so in street photography.
Drive-by 125th Street, New York City, October 2009
Drive-by 125th Street, New York City, October 2009
While the language of reading a photograph is far more nuanced than reading a sentence, there’s actually a lot more going on in the brain when we view images. Photography, like poetry when it is done successfully, does not contain one meaning as if there was an ideal Truth.
To provide you with a little more food for thought, Sasha Pea in her article A Brief History of Seeing and Believing wrote that “Our sense of sight is generally considered to be the most developed of our senses — some estimates suggest that 85 percent of the information we take in about the world arrives to us through our visual system — but the human eye is also more likely to be deceived than any other sense.” (If you would like to read the entire article, you can find it at the link below. )
And if you would like to do some homework this week, choose a photo or two and just spend some time thinking about what the photo means to you. Why you like or don’t like a photo is a good start. I’d love to hear your thoughts about your homework and perhaps even share them in future issues as we delve into looking at photos and what they mean in upcoming issues.
Further Reading
If you would like to read an article that delves into the idea of how seeing is not always believing in photography, I suggest the article below.
A Brief History of Seeing and Believing | by Sasha Pea | Medium
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The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” Marcel Proust
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Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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