Tag intuition

“We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways.” – Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer …*

"We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways." - Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer ...* | rethinked.org - Photo Credit: Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi is a Singapore based interaction designer. You may recall seeing him on rethinked …* a few months back when I featured his prototype for a “wearable tool to assist learning,” Grasp. Grasp, a timely and thoughtful design provocation, prompts us to question our assumptions about traditional learning practices and environments. It is representative of Akarsh’s broader body of work which focuses on projects that bridge the gap between physical and digital life by applying computational methods in design and creative contexts. I am delighted to share his interview with you today. Connect with Akarsh, @akarshsanghi.

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

The latest project I have been working on is trying to understand the idea of creating urban trails in a city. Today we are able to navigate urban areas with the help of various mapping applications available on our mobile devices, but that is usually a static approach, since it is only to get a job done i.e. get you from one destination to another. But I believe there is a much stronger emotional value in exploring a city by following a trail created by somebody else. The experiences that this kind of serendipity can provide can amount to something great for an individual who is exploring a new place. This is an ongoing experiment in Singapore where I am currently based.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

The one thing I fear most is getting myself involved in a project or an organization in which I lose interest or faith in while in the middle of it. As a designer, I am constantly thinking and developing new ideas and putting them out into the world. But while being committed to a project in which I lose faith half-way through, it becomes extremely frustrating to see it through till the end. Some ways in which I try to avoid this situation is by having adequate research and knowledge about what I am getting into. Also you have to completely believe in your own vision that you are trying to achieve irrespective of what other’s have to say about it, and do your best in achieving that.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

I very strongly believe in the idea of applying existing forms of technology in the most creative and innovative contexts to solve some of the most pressing problems in society. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time we are trying to create something new. There are numerous situation, contexts, problems and people who are still untapped by the use of modern technology. To cater for those segments of society, we have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways. There are times when I feel extremely disappointed while working with some big organizations, since they are constantly resisting change and are so afraid to take risks in any form.

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Everything that Elon Musk has done in the past decade, whether it is in space exploration, electric cars, solar energy and the latest idea of introducing home batteries. It is inspiring to see and entrepreneur born from the Internet Age has taken up and succeeded in businesses which were earlier restricted only to men and women in white coats working in research laboratories. His work clearly showcases that an idea however crazy or absurd it may sound at the time, can be pursued to alter the way humanity progresses.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

I wouldn’t really say that I have had one transformational moment in my life till now (I am 24 years old) but when I was able to create small projects and put them online which other people could use and give feedback was extremely enriching for me. It really motivated me to continue creating and putting ideas out in the world. You never know what form those ideas take once they are out of your system.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

At some point of time I want to look back at my life and sum up all the experiences I have collected, the journey I have been through, the people I have come across, the work I have done in one words, i.e. “FUN”

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Being able to distinguish between First Principles and Intuition. Some of the most powerful entities that a human possesses can do wonders in difficult situations where one can make decisions based on formal logic or a simple gut call.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How can we develop tools and communities to bridge the gap between physical and digital lives of people by empowering them to control the technology and not the other way around?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND?

Books

  • Evocative Objects: Things we think with by Sherry Turkle
  • Beautiful Evidence by Edward R. Tufte
  • The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming
  • Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan
  • Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

Films

  • P.K. by Rajkumar Hirani [Hindi film challenging the traditional ways in which we see god and religion]
  • The Imitation Game by Morten Tyldum
  • Interstellar by Christopher Nolan
  • The Prestige by Christopher Nolan

Essays

  • By Isaac Asimov [access here]
  • By Bret Victor [access here]

. . . * 

THANK YOU, AKARSH!

A Most Delightful Response to Life’s Nagging Questions: “Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility”

A Most Delightful Response to Life's Nagging Questions: "Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility" | rethinked.org

Artist Unknown

This week, I found myself puzzling about life–puzzling more than usual that is. I lost myself in questions about passion, purpose, action, fear, choices, growing up, courage, art and pain. No need for alarm, this happens every year about a month before my birthday comes around. I find myself undergoing a tiny annual existential crisis, where I question everything, worry that the gap between my actual self (my behaviors, patterns and habits?) and my “ideal” self is widening rather than shrinking and neurotically overthink the connections between thinking, doing and becoming.

The good news about all this mental time travel I undergo each year is that recent studies have found self-projection to be correlated with a greater sense of meaning. What’s a little annual mental anguish over all of one’s life choices in exchange for a meaningful life?

Several lines of work seem to converge on the idea that self-projection is a valuable exercise. Mentally traveling in time, imagining other places, and stepping into other people’s minds can give people a sense of meaning in life. Researchers have found that engaging in nostalgia, the process of sentimentally reflecting on past events, produces reports of greater meaning in life. Projecting oneself forward into the future—whether through hopeful thinking or considering one’s legacy after death—has also been associated with elevated reports of meaning in life.

[ . . . ]

In five additional studies, we found that having people project themselves forward or backward in time or into other geographic locations—compared with having people think about the present—boosted their subsequent reports of meaning in life. The reason for this link turned out to be deceptively simple. When our research participants considered life beyond the present moment, they often conjured up events and places that were more profound, meaningful, and awe-inspiring than the current moment. – Step Outside Yourself: Meditation says to focus on the present. But life may be more meaningful if you don’t.

…*

When I start to become overwhelmed by questions, I generally turn to the artists for insight and guidance. I’ve written a lot about the creative process on rethinked …* and shared countless insights from various artists. That’s because an artist, by definition–at least by my definition–is someone who owns, cultivates and deploys his or her own distinctive voice. At the end of the day, I don’t believe someone without a particular point of view and the ability and desire to express said point of view can be considered an artist. So I was excited to see this short video featuring French high-wire artist and general creative “outlaw,” Philippe Petit on what it means to live as an artist:

“Anyone that embarks into the arts, and even if you’re not an artist or a performer, in the art of living as an extension, will have the most difficult life because it’s the opposite of lethargy and laziness and dragging your feet and dying as you live. So if you want your life to be exciting, if you find the motor necessary for a great life, which is passion, you will have a difficult life and at the same time your life will be very easy in a sense that you will not have to struggle to find ways, it is in you, it devours you, you have to do it–using your intuition and your passion. So, for example, well people sometimes ask me, “how can I be creative?” Or. “I am a young artist and I want to develop my art.” And right there, I build a big wall between two concepts that to me are very opposite: the concept of a career and the concept of life. So, if somebody says, “You know, I am starting a career as an actor, do you have any advice?” I say, “Yes, drop the word career from your vocabulary—LIVE as an actor, you know? Don’t try to do things in a strategic way, do things as your heart tells you. If you feel you are a comic character, do not accept any drama, go into the comic and start developing it. The work of art is a perpetual trampoline; it is ephemeral; it is fragile; it is mysterious. There is no rule to describe what an artistic way of life is. So if you want to go in an artistic way of life and you carry the luggage of money and time and strategy and politics, well you will never be an artist. You know? But it’s fine, many false artists are doing that. But the true artist, in my opinion, should not think of a career, you should think of your life.

 . . . *

When the questions become overwhelming, or when one cannot find an entry way into living one’s life as one wants, Van Gogh has the perfect remedy:

Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.

You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares—and who has once broken the spell of ‘you can’t.’

Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas.

But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, ‘violates’—they say.

Let them talk, those cold theologians.

Advice from Van Gogh: Just Slap Something on It

. . . *  

Finally, I think I’ve shared this before, but when I am anxious or puzzled or just generally blue I go straight to the bookstore. Earlier this week, while browsing the children’s books–which I love as I truly believe most children understand very deeply and intuitively a lot of things we forget and unlearn and complicate terribly as we grow older–I discovered Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld (who also coauthored the sublime Duck Rabbit book). It’s the charming story of an exclamation mark who feels out of place amongst the other punctuation marks until he meets a question mark who, through her endless questions, helps him discover his voice!! Enjoy …* 

“Design is never finished but constantly adapting to a world in flux” – How Do You Define Design?

"Design is never finished but constantly adapting to a world in flux" - How Do You Define Design?  | rethinked.org

“Design is making. Design is thinking with your hands. Design is arranging the world around us to ensure the functioning and well-being of our communities. Design is the inherent human capability of understanding a challenge and its context followed by the instinctive act of rapid, iterative trial and error until a solution is found. Design is having trust in your intuition to take non-linear creative leaps in order to beat habit. Design is never finished but constantly adapting to a world in flux.” –  Matthias Reichwald

I’m always interested in hearing how people define design and I quite liked the definition above, which I found yesterday while reading an article on Design Indaba. What do you think?

How do you define design? 

Source: What Design Thinking Can Do For Africa via Design Indaba

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* | rethinked.org | Photo by Elsa Fridman

READ

Accelerating serendipity: Can you make happy accidents happen more often? ~ via Medium, published August 13, 2013.

How We Learn ~ Insights from psychology can make us better readers, writers and thinkers ~ via Scientific American, published August 15, 2013.

Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply ~ A road map for navigating a course to empathy — suitable for any age. From Ashoka‘s Start Empathy initiative which shares research, case studies and inspirational stories, and is building a network of Changemaker Schools committed to building empathic, encouraging environments at the elementary level. via Edutopia, published August 12, 2013.

How Self-Expiring Medicine Packaging Could Change The World ~ Husband-and-wife doctor/designer team Gautam Goel and Kanupriya Goel want to encapsulate our medicines in strips that change color as they expire, transforming the packaging of dangerously out-of-date medication into a chromatic warning. But will big pharma bring it to market?  via FastCo.Design, published August 12, 2013.

The Decisive Moment and the Brain ~ A look at the science behind conscious and unconscious awareness, and how the brain allows photographers to know things with intuition. via PetaPixel, published August 12, 2013.

The Missing Half of the Education Debate ~ Conversations about college must address more than just cost and access. They must also question assumptions of quality, performance, and relevance. This is uncomfortable and unwelcome ground. But for many students in many places, college is no longer doing well what it was designed to do — and what it was designed to do may no longer be what students most need or what societies most need of them. We need to talk about that too. via Harvard Business Review, published August 13, 2013.

How to Make Online Courses Massively Personal ~ Online learning is a tool, just as the textbook is a tool. The way the teacher and the student use the tool is what really counts. via Scientific American, published August 14, 2013.

Top 5 Tips for Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur ~ “Life is too short to spend your time avoiding failure,” and other tips from Michael Bloomberg based on his experience of building a company from the ground up, leading New York City as mayor, and founding a philanthropic organization. via LinkedIn, published August 14, 2013.

4 Tips To Master Thinking With Both Sides of Your Brain, And Boost Creativity ~ While some people seem to be less adept than others at firing up both burners, making them appear more left-brained than right-brained, most brain scientists agree–and this is what’s exciting–that the ability to shift rapidly between divergent and convergent thinking, which is the key to innovation, can be sharpened and improved. via Fast Company, published August 15, 2013.

Bring Design Thinking to Your Classroom with OpenIDEO ~ In mid-September OpenIDEO will launch a new challenge on nurturing creative confidence in young people – and educators and faculty from around the world are invited to join in.  via OpenIDEO

Games Can Make “Real Life” More Rewarding ~In her 2011 book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, game development expert and author Jane McGonigal describes a number of ways that games can improve our lives by using experience and research to link games with feelings of connectedness, self-worth, fulfillment and happiness. via Edutopia, published August 14, 2013

LOOK

Slick Data Visualization Reveals Scientific Collaborations Taking Place Around the Globe ~ via Open Culture, published August 15, 2013.

In Praise of a Whimsical, Solar-Powered ‘Do-Nothing Machine’ ~ Seven short decades ago, Charles and Ray Eames lent their formidable imaginations to the creation of a machine so non-utilitarian that its pointlessness gave the gadget its name: the Do-Nothing Machine. The Do-Nothing Machine embodies and evokes the spirit of pure, unadulterated originality. Its lack of any specific, hierarchical function or purpose frees it from the burden of meeting expectations, while its intrinsic playfulness subtly challenges other inventors, engineers and designers to step up. via TIME, published August 12, 2013.

40 maps that explain the world ~ Maps can be a remarkably powerful tool for understanding the world and how it works, but they show only what you ask them to. via Washington Post, published August 12, 2013.

Outdoor Funnel Wall Makes Music When Rain Falls ~ Somewhere in the Kunsthof-passage of Dresden, Germany, there’s actually an outdoor building wall that makes music whenever it rains. via Lost At E Minor, published August 12, 2013.

Samsung eco-conscious origami cardboard mono laser printer ~ This printer will make you rethink…* your assumptions of what a printer is. via Designboom, published August 13, 2013.

WATCH

Buildings made from cardboard tubes: A gallery of Shigeru Ban architecture ~ via TED, published August 13, 2013.

Reframing Fear: The Upside of Risk, Failure and Judgment ~ via The Good Life Project, published February 13, 2013.

The First Billboard in the World to Make Drinking Water out of Thin Air ~ What would a great ad for a university of technology be? An ad, that itself, solves a problem through technology. This is exactly what the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru and their ad agency Mayo DraftFCB have done – the first billboard in the world to make drinking water out of thin air and alleviate the lives of Peru’s people. via Big Think, published August 12, 2013.

Paddy Harrington on Starting with Desire, Designing the Experience & Thinking by Doing…*

 

Paddy Harrington on Starting with Desire, Designing the Experience & Thinking by Doing...* | rethinked.org

Slide from Paddy Harrington’s Creative Morning Talk

 

“For me, if we talk about art and technology, I think that those are the two parts of design but the design is in fact the technology of art. And so what do we mean by that?  I personally think that this is the definition, it’s a working definition, it’s a fluid definition because in fact we are designers, we like to live in a fluid world, but this is really the synthesis of the definition of art and the definition of technology with a little thing added at the end: “Design is the application of scientific knowledge, creative skill, and imagination for practical purposes”, and the piece that I’ve added is, “in service of better outcomes”.  And so, for me, there’s sort of the technical side of this which is how we think, how we operate, how we produce things that we make as designers but the exciting part is when we focus it on something, when we actually give it a purpose. Because you can design anything but if you do it with purpose, then that’s when I think we start to get into something really interesting and that’s when we start to see a solution to all the questions and the challenges that we face today.”

Enjoy this insightful Creative Morning talk by Paddy Harrington, Executive Creative Director at Bruce Mau Design. Harrington highlights the cultural gap between art and technology, briefly outlining the history of the split and its effects on contemporary wicked problems. He then offers design as a critical factor for bridging the gap between art and technology to bring the two into a harmonious whole that contributes to more sustainable and human systems and experiences.

“To me, what design can offer, in the end, is this idea of holistic thinking. We don’t think in columns and rows. We think about first of all the entire spreadsheet, but also what’s beyond the edges of the spreadsheet and so for me, that’s the kind of key thing for us to focus on, is try to encourage more holistic thinking because when you do that you start to understand how things are interconnected and when we start to think about things in interconnected ways we realize that every action that we take has an impact somewhere else and we can start to consider the whole system.”

Harrington puts forth three big principles that we should focus on in attempting to apply the potential of design as a bridge for more holistic thinking and living:

START WITH DESIRE ~ I think this is a key dimension of design. Most processes, if you’re following a more logical, linear process—Where’s the insight? What’s the audience? What’s the key performance indicator? What’s all that sort of stuff—especially when you get in the business world, into sort of MBA educated process, it’s a very linear structured process that doesn’t have a whole lot of room for things like beauty, intuition, magic. What I think design should do is actually kind of bridge that gap and the first thing to do in that process is to start with the desire. So don’t start with the sort of local immediate thing around you, start with the vision of where you want to go. And that, I think, is most likely to get you to a better outcome because it sets the ambition at the outset and lets you build to that place in a way that gets rid of things like feasibility and viability—Will it work? Can we afford it?—those things, frankly, are sidetracks when you’re that early in the process and so the idea is to start with desire.” 

DESIGN THE EXPERIENCE ~ “I think that design often gets tripped up by thinking very locally about what is the physical object—what does it look like? What’s the shape? What’s the material?—all those sorts of things. When it gets really exciting is when we start to think about what’s the kind of start to finish and go further upstream and further downstream. And so, for example, working on a stadium we did in NY, we talked about the street to seat experience, so what is everything that the user, or the human being, experiences from the moment they are standing on the street with their ticket to the minute they’re sitting in their seat. And that’s a different way of thinking, it’s not a conventional way of thinking but it really leads you to different places because you’re actually considering all the facets.”

THINK BY DOING ~ “What this means really is that again, if we follow the linear model– we put strategy and then we go into some research and then we do design and design has kind of a point downstream—that’s a way of doing things and it’s not that it’s invalid; I’m not here to say that Microsoft Excel does not have a place, because it absolutely has a critical place, it keeps us organized. But what I’m saying is there’s an alternative way of thinking about things that’s a little more integrated. Thinking by doing means that you can actually develop strategy by producing design. And so by making tangible things, you’re actually able to accelerate the thinking and so when you sit down and design a logo or a building, a space, a website, anything, we, naturally as designers, tend to produce things to think through them and that’s a skill that we don’t recognize as being quite valuable. It’s actually a very rare thing in business for people to think that way. They tend to think in words first, try to get to a point where it makes sense and then build it out when we all know that you cannot build some things out with words, you have to draw it and that’s a really critical part of the process for us.”

{2012 / 06 Paddy Harrington from CreativeMornings/Toronto on Vimeo.}

Henri Cartier-Bresson on The Mind’s Eye & The Decisive Moment…*

In photography there is a new kind of plasticity, the product of instantaneous lines made by movements of the subject. We work in unison with movement as though it were a presentiment of the way in which life itself unfolds.

Our conversation about the essence of photography began yesterday with excerpts from Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. While Barthes is interested in the essence of photography itself, his methodology for uncovering and articulating this essence is driven by his own experiences of photography, most often as spectator. To round out the conversation, I thought it would be nice to hear from Henri Cartier-Bresson, photographer, one of 5 founding members of Magnum Photos, and the father of the decisive moment– “the moment at which the elements in motion are in balance. Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.” Here is Cartier-Bresson’s 1976 essay, The Mind’s Eye, transcribed in full as well as numerous (but each so glorious) excerpts from The Decisive Moment (1952). Because photography, like most other art forms, is about looking, subjectivity and experience, Cartier-Bresson’s reflections on the profession and medium, like Barthes’s, are about much more than the technicalities of photography and perspective and touch on the essence of being human. Enjoy & rethink…*

 

 (photo via The Guardian)

 

THE MIND’S EYE 

Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects, which for me are not a major concern.

Photography appears to be an easy activity; in fact is a varied and ambiguous process in which the only common denominator among its practitioners is their instrument. What emerges from this recording machine does not escape the economic constraints of a world of waste, of tensions that become increasingly intense and of insane ecological consequences.

“Manufactured” or staged photography does not concern me. And if I make a judgment it can only be on a psychological or sociological level. There are those who take photographs arranged beforehand and those who go out to discover the image and seize it. For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. In order to “give a meaning” to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry–it is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression. One must always take photographs with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself.

To take photographs is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge in the face of fleeing reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.

To take photographs means to recognize–simultaneously and within a fraction of a second–both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.

As far as I am concerned, taking photographs is a means of understanding which cannot be separated from other means of visual expression. It is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s originality. It is a way of life.

Anarchy is an ethic.

Buddhism is neither a religion nor a philosophy, but a medium that consists in controlling the spirit in order to attain harmony and, through compassion, to offer it to others.

*

 

from THE DECISIVE MOMENT  

 

THE PICTURE-STORY

I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to “trap” life—to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize, in the confines of one single photograph, the whole essence of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.

I have traveled a good deal, though I don’t really know how to travel. I like to take my time about it. Leaving between one country and the next an interval in which to digest what I’ve seen. Once I had arrived in a new country, I feel almost like settling down there, so as to live on proper terms with the country, I could never be a globetrotter.

Twenty-five years have passed since I started to look through my view-finder. But I regard myself still as an amateur, though I am still no longer a dilettante.

Sometimes a single event can be so rich in itself and its facets that it is necessary to move all around it in your search for the solution to the problem it poses—for the world is movement, and you cannot be stationary in your attitude toward something that is moving.

Things-As-They-Are offer such an abundance of material that a photographer must guard against the temptation of trying to do everything. It is essential to cut from the raw material of life—to cut and cut, but to cut with discrimination. While working, a photographer must reach a precise awareness of what he is trying to do. Sometimes you have the feeling that you have already taken the strongest possible picture of a particular situation or scene; nevertheless, you find yourself compulsively shooting, because you cannot be sure in advance exactly how the situation, the scene, is going to unfold. You must stay with the scene, just in case the elements of the situation shoot off from the core again. At the same time, it’s essential to avoid shooting like a machine-gunner and burdening yourself with useless recordings which clutter your memory and spoil the exactness of the reportage as a whole.

Memory is very important, particularly in respect to the recollection of every picture you’ve taken while you’ve been galloping at the speed of the scene itself. The photographer must make sure, while he is still in the presence of the unfolding scene, that he hasn’t left any gaps, that he has really given expression to the meaning of the scene in its entirety, for afterward it is too late. He is never able to wind the scene backward in order to photograph it all over again.

For photographers, there are two kinds of selection to be made, and either of them can lead to eventual regrets. There is the selection we make when we look through the view-finder at the subject; and there is the one we make after the films have been developed and printed. After developing and printing, you must go about separating the pictures which, though they are all right, aren’t the strongest. When it’s too late, then you know with a terrible clarity exactly where you failed; and at this point you often recall the telltale feeling you had while you were actually making the pictures. Was it a feeling of hesitation due to uncertainty? Was it because of some physical gulf between yourself and the unfolding events? Was it simply that you did not take into account a certain detail in relation to the whole setup? Or was it (and this is more frequent) that your glance became vague, your eye wandered off?

For each of us space begins and slants off from our own eyes, and from there enlarges itself progressively toward infinity. Space, in the present, strikes us with greater or lesser intensity and then leaves us, visually, to be closed in our memory and to modify itself there. Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes forever the precise and transitory instant. We photographers deal in things that are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished, there is no contrivance on earth that can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory. The writer has time to reflect. He can accept and reject, accept again; and before committing his thoughts to paper he is able to tie the several relevant elements together. There is also a period when his brain “forgets,” and his subconscious works on classifying his thoughts.  But for photographers, what has gone is gone forever. Form that fact stem the anxieties and strength of our profession. We cannot do our story over again once we’ve got back to our hotel. Our task is to perceive reality, almost simultaneously recording it in the sketchbook which is our camera. We must neither try to manipulate reality while we are shooting, nor manipulate the results in a darkroom. These tricks are patently discernible to those who have eyes to see.

In whatever picture-story we try to do, we are bound to arrive as intruders. It is essential, therefore, to approach the subject on tiptoe—even if the subject is still-life. A velvet hand, a hawk’s eye—these we should all have. It’s no good jostling or elbowing. And no photographs taken with the aid of flashlight either, if only out of respect for the actual light—even when there isn’t any of it. Unless a photographer observes such conditions as these, he may become an intolerably aggressive character.

The profession depends so much upon the relations the photographer establishes with the people he’s photographing, that a false relationship, a wrong word or attitude, can ruin everything. When the subject is in any way uneasy, the personality goes away where the camera can’t reach it. There are no system, for each case is individual and demands that we be unobtrusive, though we must be at close range. Reactions of people differ much from country to country, and from one social group to another.

 

THE SUBJECT

There is subject in all that takes place in the world, as well as in our personal universe. We cannot negate subject. It is everywhere So we must be lucid toward what is going on in the world, and honest about what we feel.

Subject does not consist of a collection of facts, for facts in themselves offer little interest. Through facts, however, we can reach an understanding of the laws that govern them, and be better able to select the essential ones which communicate reality.

In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a leitmotiv. We see and show the world around us, but it is an even itself which provokes the organic rhythm of forms.

There are thousands of ways to distill the essence of something that captivates us; let’s not catalogue them. We will, instead, leave it in all its freshness…

One kind of subject matter greatly derided by present day painters is the portrait. The frock coat, the soldier’s cap, the horse now repel even the most academic of painters. They feel suffocated by all the gaiter buttons of the Victorian portrait makers. For photographers—perhaps because we are reaching for something much less lasting in value than the painters—this is not so much irritating as amusing, because we accept life in all its reality.

People have an urge to perpetuate themselves by means of a portrait, and they put their best profiles forward for posterity. Mingled with this urge, though, is a certain fear of black magic; a feeling that by sitting for a camera portrait they are exposing themselves to the workings of witchcraft of a sort.

One of the fascinating things about portraits is the way they enable us to trace the sameness of man. Man’s continuity somehow comes through all the external things that constitute him—even if it is only to the extent of someone’s mistaking Uncle for Little Nephew in the family album. If the photographer is to have a change of achieving a true reflection of a person’s world—which is as much outside him as inside him—it is necessary that the subject of the portrait should be in a situation normal to him. We must respect the atmosphere which surrounds the human being, and integrate into the portrait the individual’s habitat—for man, no less than animals, has his habitat. Above all, the sitter must be made to forget about the camera and the photographer who is handling it. Complicated equipment and light reflectors and various other items of hardware are enough, to my mind, to prevent the birdie from coming out.

What is there more figurative and transitory than the expression on a human face? The first impression given by a particular face is often the right one; but the photographer should try always to substantiate the first impression by “living” with the person concerned. The decisive moment and psychology, no less than camera position, are the principal factors in the making of a good portrait.

The sitter is suspicious of the objectivity of the camera, while the photographer is after an acute psychological study of the sitter.

It is true, too, that a certain identity is manifest in all the portraits taken by one photographer. The photographer is searching for identity of his sitter, and also trying to fulfill and expression of himself. The true portrait emphasizes neither the suave nor the grotesque, but reflects the personality.

 

COMPOSITION

Photography implies the recognition of a rhythm in the world of real things. What the eye does is to find and focus on the particular subject within the mass of reality; what the camera does is simply to register upon film the decision made by the eye. We look at and perceive a photograph, as we do a painting, in its entirety and all in one glance. In a photograph, composition is the result of a simultaneous coalition, the organic coordination of elements seen by the eye. One does not add composition as though it were an afterthought superimposed on the basic subject material, since it is impossible to separate content from form. Composition must have its own inevitability about it.

In photography there is a new kind of plasticity, the product of instantaneous lines made by movements of the subject. We work in unison with movement as though it were a presentiment of the way in which life itself unfolds.

But inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance. Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.

The photographer’s eye is perpetually evaluating. A photographer can bring coincidence of line simply by moving his head a fraction of a millimeter. He can modify perspectives in a slight bending of the knees. By placing the camera closer to or farther from the subject, he draws a detail—and it can be subordinated, or he can be tyrannized by it. But he composes a picture in very nearly the same amount of time it takes to click the shutter, at the speed of a reflect action.

[…] if the shutter was released at the decisive moment, you have instinctively fixed a geometric pattern without which the photograph would have been both formless and lifeless.

Composition must be one of our constant preoccupations, but at the moment of shooting it can stem only from our intuition, for we are out to capture the fugitive moment, and all the interrelationships involved are on the move. In applying the Golden Rule, the only pair of compasses at the photographer’s disposal is his own pair of eyes. Any geometrical analysis, any reducing of the picture to a schema, can be done only (because of its very nature) after the photograph has been taken, developed and printed—and then it can be used only for a post-mortem examination of the picture.

 

COLOR

In talking about composition we have been so far thinking only in terms of that symbolic color called black. Black-and-white photography is a deformation, that is to say, an abstraction. In it, all the values are transposed; and this leaves the possibility of choice.

The operation of bringing the color of nature in space to a printed surface poses a series of extremely complex problems. To the eye, certain colors advance, others recede. So we would have to be able to adjust the relations of the color one to the other, for colors, which in nature place themselves in the depths of space, claim a different placing on a plane surface—whether it is the flat surface or a painting or a photograph.

 

TECHNIQUE

Technique is important only insofar as you must master it in order to communicate what you see. Your own personal technique has to be created and adapted solely in order to make your vision effective on film. But only the results count, and the conclusive evidence is the finished photographic print; otherwise there would be no end to the number of tales photographers would tell about pictures which they ever-so-nearly got—but which are merely a memory in the eye of the nostalgia.

In any case, people think far too much about techniques and not enough about seeing.

During the process of enlarging, it is essential to re-create the values and mood of the time the picture was taken; or even to modify the print so as to bring it into line with the intentions of the photographer at the moment he shot it. It is necessary also to re-establish the balance which the eye is continually establishing between light and shadow. And it is for these reasons that the final act of creating in photography takes place in the darkroom.

 

THE CUSTOMER

We photo-reporters are people who supply information to a world in a hurry, a world weighted down with preoccupations, prone to cacophony, and full of beings with a hunger for information and needing the companionship of images. We photographers, in the course of taking pictures inevitably make a judgment on what we see, and that implies a great responsibility.

I have talked at some length, but of only one kind of photography. There are many kinds. Certainly the fading snapshot carried in the back of a wallet, the glossy advertising catalog, and the great range of things in between are photography. I don’t attempt to define it for everyone. I only attempt to define it for myself.

To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that even its proper expression.

I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, which can mold us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds—the one inside us and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.

For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean a rigorous organization of the interplay of surfaces, lines, and values. It is in this organization alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct.

Source: Cartier-Bresson, Henri. The Mind’s Eye: Writings on photography and photographers. New York: Aperture, 1999. Print.

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While were on the topics of glory & photography:  A Homemade Autochrome Camera Made with Lego, Cardboard, and Duct Tape ~ via Peta Pixel, published November 2, 2012. Photographer Dominique Vankan wanted to play around with the old Autochrome Lumière process from the early 1900s, so he built himself a custom large format camera using LEGO pieces, cardboard, and duct tape. Head over to Peta Pixel to find out more about the process & results. Delight guaranteed.

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