What is it to truly observe? I used to think that observation was a switch that could be turned on or off, and that the simple act of "looking" will yield an abundance of information. Observing, for me, was just concentrating on keeping your eyes and mind open when you attempted to discover and understand things.
I thought I knew how to observe until I started practicing street photography. The act of finding interesting things going on on the streets is a lot more difficult than it seems. Movement is everywhere around you, distracting you, frustrating you. It turns out, finding the gooey center in the middle of the tough concrete exterior has been a huge learning experience, and much harder than I originally anticipated. While it was frustrating in the beginning, as the months went by, I started seeing more, and connecting things that had previously gone unnoticed. I discovered new techniques and human patterns that allowed me to anticipate what might happen in certain situations. I observed when reviewing my film—figuring out what works and what doesn't, filing away that information should that situation ever happen again.
Another thing I noticed, was that the more I looked, the less I shot. I began to separate the mundane from the typical. Finding the interesting subjects became the hard part—not making the photo itself. Now it seems that if I take an hour during lunch to walk around Seattle and shoot, I feel lucky if I take 4 photos. Observation has sharpened me, and allowed me to identify and react instead of distracting me. There’s always room for improvement, which gives me faith that I can get even better as I learn and develop my ability to observe even more.
Here is the next installment of Bruce Mau's Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. A master at the art of observation.
6. Capture accidents.
The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.
A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.
Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.
9. Begin anywhere.
John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.
10. Everyone is a leader.
Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.