Dust and Mud - Photography by Dana Thomas
A Habit of Seeing

Photographers are both blessed and cursed with the habit of seeing. The man or woman driving down a mountain road with one hand on the wheel, looking back over their shoulder at a subtle ray of light flowing down through the trees is likely a photographer. The person who can tell you what changes have transpired to a scene that was visited years before possesses the habit of seeing. The tree that has been cut down or perhaps a tree that has grown enough to change the view will be noticed by the person who spends their time looking for a worthy photograph. If you need to know from which point on the compass the sun is rising, ask a photographer. Interested in the quality and depth of light, again ask a photographer.

The habit of seeing is a blessing to photographer. It helps to sort through the mundane and the exceptional, or more accurately, allows a photo to be taken when the mundane for a brief moment becomes the exceptional. The blessing of seeing is essential for a photographer and keeps them returning to same scene over and over. These pilgrimages may be as simple as returning to observe the late afternoon sun, when the morning sun was from the wrong angle. It also may be as quixotic as waiting for an old building to decay to the point that it tells a story of the harsh passage of time. Photography in its strict adherence to the reality in front of the lens requires the photographer to constantly practice the habit of seeing.

The habit of seeing can also be a curse. Finding a scene with poor light, making the effort to return at a better time only to find that it remains an uninspired photo can be disappointing. Stumbling upon a picture at the wrong time, knowing you won't be able to return can be frustrating. The curse associated with the habit of seeing is that photographers are not only aware of day to day changes, but also of slower changes that cannot be reversed. The old home that has been torn down, weeds in a field where crops are no longer grown, the slow reduction in the number of boats in a small town's fishing fleet or the absence of the old couple that took the same route on their morning walk for years. Photographers have a heightened sense of changes in their world, some for the better, but some that are sad, disturbing or hard to fathom.

The habit of seeing is a blessing and a curse. It brings rewards, but can also trigger sadness. Above all, the habit of seeing is a gift worth cultivating.