Photography and what it makes us see

Otto von Münchow is a Norwegian photographer, living in Seattle, USA. He travels a lot, both far and near, trying the limits of photography as a medium for communication. Otto writes books and makes workshops where he helps others developing their communication skills in photography. In his blog In Flow, he publishes photos of his own and tells  – often from an everyday perspective – about experiences close to his heart. He also has an extraordinary talent, discussing issues of theory in a very practical and easy way.

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On his blog In Flow I read a post that interested me a lot. It was on April 11, 2017. I give a link below, for you to read it if you like. It’s about photography how it shows what we otherwise do not see.

The blog post discussed.

There was one sentence that caught my attention: ”any moment holds infinite possibilities for creating strong and engaging photographs. Maybe – or surely – you don’t always see them, but someone would.”

When I read this, a thought came to my mind:

photography 1
(photo Ellington)
photography 2
(photo Ellington)

Ellington to Otto von Münchow Apr 11, 2017

Isn’t it in the nature of perception? To make a grid for seeing things in familiar ways, and to sort out what’s not necessary for immediate survival. Which is how we create the comfort zone that helps us go about our daily business without unnecessary effort. Of course there’s nothing wrong in relying on such everyday vision most of the time, as long as you’re aware of the fact that this isn’t all there is – and as long as you’re enough awake to notice when there’s something new coming into view.

I think it is my reliance on those habits of vision that makes it such a thing of beauty when I happen to step out of these doors of perception to see appearances great and small that are usually shaded or hidden from my sight. A source of beauty, yes! But being thus awake and prepared for the extraordinary – isn’t that an ancient capacity for survival too? And perhaps also for experiencing the universe in a grain of sand.


Reply, Otto von Münchow to Ellington Apr 11, 2017

In trying to survive in a world full of inputs we need our brain to be able to sort out every bit of information that we take in, and do it quickly. For that reason we don’t “notice” what isn’t necessary to relate to. As a photographer, though, I need to take notice of what we usually don’t need to compute.


Reply, Ellington to Otto von Münchow Apr 12, 2017

And isn’t it highly interesting, Otto, how our consciousness works in sorting out what seems unnecessary for the moment. As I experience it, no single “sorted-out” piece of information is ever scrapped, but stored. Whenever there’s a new or unknown input, the brain (my brain) scans through the almost infinite storage of received information to find whatever there is to help you identify what you see. Such identification, I think, involves some guesswork, which makes our pictures of reality a mixture of fact and fiction. I’ve been accused of being a nihilist by people thinking this means I do not believe in truth. I’m nothing of the kind, I’d say. Just that all facts and truths need to be tried and explored again and again.


Reply, Otto von Münchow to Ellington, Apr 12, 2017

And truth, what is that in the end? For one I don’t believe in one absolute truth, it all depends on the eyes and the context.


Reply, Ellington to Otto von Münchow, Apr 12, 2017

And then, I wouldn’t take it as an ABSOLUTE truth that ALL depends on the eyes and the context. I need to think a bit more about this, because I do not want to say something now that’s not grounded on rigorous reflection and analysis.

However, what I want to say about truth is perhaps already there in the phrase “rigorous reflection”. Because although it is true that all depends on context and perspective, it is the rigor with which this dependency is tested that decides whether we come up with truth or just with a relativism.

And, Otto – back to the beginning of this thread: what, if anything, would all this teach us about photogaphy?


Reply, Otto von Münchow to Ellington, Apr 12, 2017

As far as I can see, photography can help us open up our eyes to the world around us. At the same time whatever we capture isn’t all that we are able to perceive, the world is infinitely richer, and all of this richness is there whether we photograph it or not.

photography 3
(photo Ellington)