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Curious Frame - Issue #3 - Looking versus Seeing

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #3 - Looking versus Seeing
By Leanne Staples • Issue #3 • View online
Welcome everyone. Thank you for subscribing to Curious Frame. I am very happy with all the fabulous comments and stories that I received about the second issue of Curious Frame. And I am delighted about the many new subscribers.
One reader commented: “Curious Frame does a very nice job of providing some perspective on how to see, not just look at, an image.” Not only is this statement exactly what I strive to do in this newsletter, he also anticipated the theme of this issue: looking versus seeing.
It is my desire to make the idea of understanding photography accessible to everyone rather than have them finding it intimidating and feeling that you need an advanced degree to understand it or that your interpretation is discounted.
Throughout this issue I use the words art and photography interchangeably. When viewing art or photography, the same criteria is useful.
I want Curious Frame to go beyond the typical newsletter and spark dialogue with readers on the role of photography in the world we live in. That’s why all you need to do is hit reply to start a conversation with me. Thank you for participating.

Looking versus Seeing
At the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, October 2020
At the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, October 2020
Language dominates how we think. Being fluent in a language means that we no longer have to think about the meanings of individual words. We can easily forget that there’s a difference between looking and seeing and confuse the two verbs in our minds. 
While this inadvertent mix-up is not always obvious to us, it has an influence on how we see and understand things.
To see is to forget the name of what one sees. Paul Valéry
To look at something is to glimpse it in passing. To see something is to stop and look more deeply at it and even to possibly understand it. To understand something is literally to stand under it so that we can see it, to get it. Okay, a little foray into language. This is a beginning step in understanding.
All vision is subjective. All art and photography are subjective and maybe even political. But that’s a different story. What do you see? That’s the important question.
Chat Noir, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, October 2020
Chat Noir, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, October 2020
While we cannot have a purely objective view of art and photography, we can take the time to gauge how we feel about an image and what it means to us. Our interpretations are valid. 
We can also choose to do further reading when an image has a real appeal to us. Go with your instinct about what an image means to you.
If it provides enough appeal to you, you can choose to further research it and/or the artist/photographer. That said it isn’t necessary to take it any further.
In my Shoot New York City street photography workshops and newsletter, I talk about slow photography. Slow photography is opposite of what the energy is on the streets of New York City and what people think that street photography should be. But the results speak for themselves. There is much to be gained by slowing down.
Stop All Way, Philadelphia, February 2012
Stop All Way, Philadelphia, February 2012
To gain a better understanding we need to slow down. Viewing photos on the internet is counterintuitive to taking your time to really view art and photography. This is, of course, my opinion. But the internet and viewing digital images comes with many distractions and allows us a merely superficial view. 
In general, it is preferable to view art and photography in a gallery, museum or in books with good reproductions. The nice thing about galleries is that they are usually small and free to enter. You can take your time to actually look at the pieces on display.
When you have to pay a large sum of money to enter a museum, it is natural to want to see it all. This of course is not advisable. What will you remember after you leave? It should also be noted that on average, a person spends less than a minute looking at a piece of art in a museum.
The News, New York City, February 2020
The News, New York City, February 2020
Many years ago, Alka-Seltzer ran a series of television ads for their indigestion remedy with the punchline ‘I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.’ Replace that with, I can’t believe that I viewed the entire museum. It’s like a kind of indigestion of art. Yes, you can attempt to see too much. But what are you left with?
The internet and even Instagram are good places to research and discover art and photography. But viewing is best done offline. Art and photography have a degree of nuance. Like poetry, it invites us to dwell on it and to find our own story in it or a definition of what it means to us.
I would like to provide encouragement to you to jump in head first and dare to find yourself looking at an image and learning to become confident in the process of expressing what an image means to you. Over time it will get easier. The beauty of it is, there are many methods of seeing and describing what an image means.
Continuing the voluntary assignment from the last issue, spend some quality time with a photo that attracts your vision. Think about what it means to you and what you like or don’t like and what you think it means. These are the beginning steps to coming to an understanding of and appreciation for photography.
Your comments about this article and assignment are always welcome. Stay curious and engaged in the dialogue!
For your viewing
If you are looking for some inspiration of photographers to have a look at, I suggest Robert Frank as a good place to start. His book The Americans is a classic and in this short video you can see some of his photos and hear his thoughts on photography.
Robert Frank as a young artist
You can also find me at:
Artist, Photographer & Writer - Leanne Staples
Walking Photo Tours & Street Photography Workshops in New York City
Did you enjoy this issue?
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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