What Do You See

A small closed off room, a dozen or so students with cameras and tripods, scattered hot lights on dubious stands with a jumble of cables snaking underfoot and two young models. This was the scene for Model Day; a learning exercise in portrait photography in a class I was taking at a local college. More conscious of where I was stepping, or who’s view I may inadvertently be blocking (it was unavoidable), than what my camera and I were accomplishing meant that the real learning would have to wait.

Focus and zoom, click and move, apologize to the person behind me and try to get the models’ attention over the din of directions being called out, left me grabbing errant shots here and there as the few small openings allowed. Picture quality was less than stellar (read ’poor’), but I kept shooting. Through the viewfinder I noticed the subtle changes in expression from fraction-of-a-second to fraction-of-a-second, the exact purpose of a camera if you really think about it, and a photographer.

We capture the 1/whatevers of a second and share it with our viewers. Sometimes the emotion and intention of an image is well planned and other times we are not really sure what we’ve caught until we look at it at a later time. So it was with these two images below. I saw the model’s eyes and started shooting. The tilt of her head, the turn of her stare, the softening of her look, the progression of her gaze – it was nearly instantaneous – and I kept clicking.

But what did I see? What did I capture?

That’s the beauty of the medium: I don’t know. I can interpret, try to decipher – dryly, methodically, forensically. But more beautifully: I can wonder. It isn’t my duty to have the answer for what was behind the gaze, driving the moment; simply to capture what may make my viewers pause, consider, connect. If I am lucky enough it might even spark an emotional response.

I’ll never know what was behind the gaze that I captured, because I never asked. I don’t need to. To me, the moment is beautiful; intimate. The magic of photography lies in the interpretation we allow our viewers to discern for themselves. Not ”Look at what I see”, rather ”Look, what do you see?”.

And that is a wonderful lesson to have learned.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: