Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hidden in Plain Sight

A friend wrote a private email to me about my last blog entry on Playing, "What an eye! I would never think of taking a playground photo like that." And then I read in the New York Times an article about a new photography exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hidden in Plain Sight.

When artists talk about “training the eye,” they generally don’t mean doing exercises to maintain 20/20 vision. They mean honing a set of instincts, learning to see relationships among colors or objects or spaces. The title of this small but potent collection of contemporary photographs from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection describes this kind of vision another way: seeing what is “Hidden in Plain Sight.” The show focuses mostly on versions of street, rather than studio, photography.

The article also quotes Henry David Thoreau diary entry in August 1851:

The question is not what you look at but what you see.

This idea of training the eye and really looking was also brought home this week when I watched the movie Fur which is loosely based on the life of photographer, Diane Arbus, not so much about her photography but about her demons and breaking out of the life that she was expected to live. All through the movie you see her looking, looking closely, really seeing. At one point in the movie at a party there are short segments of her looking closely at people....a chin jutted upward, lips pursed and a shaft of smoke emerging. Not a flattering tidbit about the person. And you knew that she would be looking for these moments when she finally broke out and started photographing on her own.

And then this week on Paul Butzi's blog, Musings on Photography, Paul has been writing about the difference in seeing and taking photographs. He says that we can only photograph what we see and what we see is limited by our personalities. Maybe that is why I could never, ever, make any photographs that are similar to Diane Arbus' photographs because I don't see and maybe don't even want to see that part of life.

I like the title, Hidden in Plain Sight. I like the fact that sometimes as photographers we can show someone something that they have looked at many times before but that they have not seen before.


pitchertaker said...

I have often stated in my artist statements that my subject matter is the obscure and transitory, not hidden, but not noticed by the passerby.


Nancy said...

My aunt Jean is a very craft oriented person, and has the same kind of eye you describe, but for items that would be great incorporated into the things she makes.

I can't count the number of times we'd be walking along somewhere and she'd exclaim about some berries or pods or shells or bark or something that she could imagine being a part of something she was working on or thinking about.

She has the eye for crafts, just like you do with photography.

Howard Grill said...

Billie...Along the same lines check out the interview with Joel Gray on The Candid Frame #33 at

Ann Mc said...

"Oh, I would never have seen that if you hadn't made a picture of it!" is the comment I love to hear. This is the common thread that ties artists of all kinds together.