Benedict Brain is a UK-based photographer, journalist and artist. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel. He is also a past editor of Digital Camera Magazine, and the author of You Will be Able to Take Great Photos by The End of This Book.
I once gave a talk called ‘The Art of Seeing’, which was largely based on images that have been featured in this column over the years. As is often the case, these talks become much more interesting when there’s a healthy dialog in the group. In this particular talk, the difference between ‘looking’ and ‘seeing’ became a topic of discussion, and there were lots of interesting points made.
In the context of this column and my image-making in general, I gravitate towards the idea that looking is the physical act, while seeing is the creative process of perception. The great American naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau had some thoughts on the matter, too, and is famously quoted as saying, “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.”
In my photography, I strive to create a state of being where I’m looking – really looking – in a mindful, considered way and with an open mind. It’s only then that I ‘see’ images. This may be why I often find it easier to make images while I’m traveling and away from my everyday environment.
This image was taken in northern Norway on a recent trip. On the surface, what we’re ‘looking’ at is a fairly bland, banal image of a coach in an austere parking lot on a dull, damp day. It’s the kind of scene that might raise a few eyebrows in wonder over why I was even taking a photo. However, what I noticed through looking mindfully was the sun painted onto the back of the coach, a graphic that alludes to the romantic promise of Arctic splendours.
The painted sun is also positioned in the middle of the overall composition, and sits almost exactly where you might expect the sun to be if it were setting or rising.
What I ‘see’ is an interesting, playful and poignant observation of humanity’s desire for the exotic, juxtaposed with the reality of the situation; a comment on mass tourism and how we engage with the world. What do you see?
• Other articles in the Art of Seeing series