But, do we know what we see? I don’t think we do. The other day I received a stunning photograph of my nephew. Maryann Bates, an award-winning photographer and nominee of the Pulitzer Prize in Photographic Journalism, had taken it. When I sent it to my family, my brother responded with “I’ll fix the glare so it’ll be ready for print.”
I laughed, because this is a trait amongst our family. My grandfather was this way; my parents are this way, my siblings, cousins, and myself to some degree. We could watch the greatest performance on earth by any given artist and know deep down how it could’ve been done better.
But then I started to think about it. Backlighting (the process by which a light source is placed behind someone’s head, to give a glow around the edges, almost like they have a halo) is a classic trick in romantic photography. The practice of backlighting has been used endless times by the world’s greatest cinematographers, portrait photographers, and painted by the Renaissance masters.
Yet, in this instance, the art of backlighting had been misunderstood and somehow defined as something needing to be corrected. Was it possible that my brother hadn’t learned of backlighting? Perhaps he’s never seen backlighting used in any photographs or artwork before. This is hard to fathom but it does make sense, and brings me to wonder about how I see things.
When I look at something, I know what I see. I take it in, and if it’s new to me, sometimes I’m excited, sometimes I’m sickened, but overall I take it in. I try and learn about it so that I KNOW what I’m looking at.
I believe that the majority of the world does the opposite: they see what they know. They see what they ALREADY know. If they see something that they’ve never seen before, they define it as ‘bad’ or a ‘mistake’ or something that needs correcting. By correcting the thing, they change what they see into something familiar to them, something they already know about. And, once that thing has been changed into something they feel comfortable with, then they know what it is.
If someone has never been to an authentic Italian restaurant it is understandable that they believe Olive Garden is good Italian food. If someone has never learned about different religions, or traveled abroad, or witnessed cultural diversity, it is totally understandable that they could believe that the entire world is exactly as their own city or town. It isn’t their fault their perspective of the world is more narrow than others. But, it does bring into question what are they teaching in schools, or in church?
Think about this, and tell me if you’ve ever been guilty of seeing what you know, instead of knowing what you see.