What You Don’t See In An Image Is As Important As What You Do See

Little Straw on Ice

Sometimes what you don’t see immediately in the frame is surprising. If you look closely at this image, there’s a little flaw in the field of view. I find that photography is as much about the process of seeing as it is about the subject being photographed. I took this picture on a recent trip to the city where I hoped to continue on my theme of capturing the ice that is forming during this cold snap.

This shot is an exploration in texture, light, colour and reflection. It’s more of a photographic study like what a painter would sketch before starting a new painting. I recognize that this composition isn’t particularly brilliant. I do like the fact that it is more painterly and tending towards abstraction. I include it here despite its ordinariness mainly because of what it reveals to me.

Meaning is more important to me than form. Making sense of what is expressed in art is the driving force of my creative process. Art without meaning can’t possibly move the viewer because it fails to give insight into the spirit of the artist. Great works of art are the result of artists expressing universal truths that are relevant to all.

Taking the image and reflecting on why I am attracted  to the subject is a fascinating part of the process. It takes a certain level of detachment. The work speaks to me in mysterious ways when I give it a chance. You have to suspend emotional attachment. Thinking critically about what is in the frame is best achieved through freedom of awareness in which the work can really have its own identity.

This image is about different layers of reality and ways of seeing. There is what lies at the bottom which is a kind of hidden reality. Small artifacts such as coins exist in this bottom layer. I can not see them but they are real just the same. They exist in a reality that  is unseen.  Then there is the surface layer of ice and its contents. The ice has captured in time, the leaves that fell on the surface of the water. The leaves are part of a middle ground, one that is both seen and unseen.

When I started to look more closely at the image in processing it, I discovered something I missed entirely when framing the shot. If you look closely you will realize that there is a little juice box straw resting on the surface of the ice in the lower left-hand corner. Initially, this annoyed me because it felt like a flaw in the composition. But if you believe that everything happens for a reason you can understand how this would intrigue me.

Some might call this a random circumstance.  After all there is garbage in weird places everywhere. However, this was an opportunity for me to re-frame my thoughts on the entire image which I could just as easily have rejected as mediocre. I would have missed the meaning entirely. It’s important to not abandon the work too soon. Reflection and observation unfold meaning on their own time.

In re-framing the role of the little straw in  the field of view, I was able to connect to its relevance. Reality is so subjective and my ability to see  what is around me is a choice I make everyday. I can’t change the reality that is there, seen or unseen. That is beyond my control but my approach to seeing and understanding it, is entirely within my reach. A creative mindset is a powerful state of being. The little straw that surprised me on the ice in this photograph helped me communicate an important observation. That is how I find meaning in my creative process and hopefully it resonates with others as well.

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

Norman Vincent Peale



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