Adventures in visibility
Whoever first declared seeing is believing really missed the mark.
If anything, seeing is beyond believing. The pure act of seeing, at its foundation, is not aesthetic, artistic, political, commercial, nostalgic, or even humanistic. Seeing is neither selfish, nor is it selfless. Any of these things heaped onto the act of seeing amounts to additional ambition or baggage being muled atop seeing's able legs. Whether the cargo rides along intentionally or unconsciously is irrelevant. The essence of seeing remains existential.
I understand seeing as something more than visual. The visual practice is simply effective and prevalent. We've grown dependent on it to constantly remind ourselves of our existence, and how we might permit others to appropriate our existence. Seeing, however, that big concept of seeing, it is something much bigger than a visual practice. Seeing simply happens in more ways than the visual. Although the visual practice is a good starting point, for all the obvious reasons.
I observed how photography helped shape each of my parents' world views. As a child, my father watched his father return from land surveys carrying his trips with him inside his camera. My mother was a beauty queen and spent her fair share of time in front of lenses. When I was growing up, my father gave me the camera he used in college. It was a Pentax Spotmatic. I felt so lucky to be singled out for this gift. My father's advice was to learn photography well enough to record the events of my life, well enough so that I might remember and perhaps even share. My mother's advice was to make sure people looked nice in the pictures. Even as they took pictures of our family, they created the opportunity for me to take pictures for myself. My father even recommended I set up my own black-and-white darkroom in the downstairs bathroom. Which I did.
Photography, since then, has proved a faithful companion in the adventure of seeing. Perhaps its most basic gift is in the way it provides an accessible ritual for seeing, reflecting, remembering, and imagining. Whether I find myself taking a picture or letting an image look at me, the ritual proves itself effective, again and again.
Eugene Ahn | eugene at onethousandlifetimes dot com