Habitual Ways of Seeing

Do you think in pictures or in words? Perhaps both, perhaps creating visual images to accompany our inner speech. Ursula Le Guin wrote that “the imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking.” Looking at images is the same thing as imagining, something that can be hard to grasp and understand and sometimes doesn’t make any sense. It is an act of both instant attraction and recognition.

While looking through my notebooks from the last couple of years, I am searching for words circled around three times and sentences marked with two thick lines underneath. I find myself reading and looking around me and everything kind of melts together. Pictures I collect from photographers I like, words from books I enjoy and my own thoughts merge and dissolve and merge again. It’s a process of assembling everything to a messy perfect place and taking ownership over words and visuals that are not mine for a moment. Looking at things ordinary in its own extraordinariness.

In Anne Carson’s “Autobiography of Red” the main character Geryon shares his view of the world and his shifting from childhood to adolescence. While doing so he takes up photography. As you photograph you can create a controlled and decisive perspective. And in doing so you can understand what you are looking at from a different view. A personal perspective opening up to questions about yourself, the world and its functions.

One of the qualities the photograph has, is its ability to convey texture so realistically that you can tell what objects would feel like just by looking at pictures of them. The texture of a surface shows how it feels to touch. It is a tangible physical visuality, sometimes feeling like an innocent tickle on the wet surface of the eye. It feels close, but you can never truly feel its touch.

On my computer there are screenshots from things I want to remember and never do. Knowing that it is there makes me feel comfortable and at ease, but I have no idea what most of it means. The album on my phone is filled with the same aesthetically generic pictures over and over; merely evidence of the same rhythms of everyday life and creates a continuous never-ending stream of consciousness – or maybe that’s what I want, and in reality it’s more about my eyes being adopted to habitual ways of seeing.

The summer before moving to Gothenburg, I bought a book called “Successful Photography” at a second-hand store in Oslo. For 30 NOK I am flipping through the pages describing how to take better photographs step by step in an orderly manner through horizons, shadows and perspectives. On the first page, a picture of a sunset is filling the whole surface. A picture you already know, existing in some corner of your consciousness. (Fig. 8)

A cliche is in common language thought of as an idea or piece of art that is overused and therefore lacks original thought. Cliches provide an instant sense of satisfaction for the viewer, and therefore have the potential to create a connection more easily between the observer and the larger purposes the cliches serve. In other words, the cliché operates as a connector, more than a purpose. (Fig. 9) Looking at the picture of the sunset, I’m thinking about how the potential in cliches may lie in the opportunity to challenge the observers’ ideas of purpose and meaning in a photograph. Since cliches includes a broad visual recognition, they can disarm, thus opening for a message, depending on the context.

While reading Adrienne Rich “The Dream of a Common Language” I’m thinking about how photography may be the only common language that exists. Speaking visuality is a language full of wordless gestures, creating worlds inside the worlds and quarrelling between entanglement and distance. In the visual world intention and coincidence merge and the observer is asked to create its own interpretation. It is a raw and vulnerable form of talking. So quiet yet brimming with words.

 Photography has the possibility of being records of daily life, while at the same time situating themselves somewhere between inside and outside, present and past, fantasy and reality. A perception set in motion. Looking at it that way, photography does more than simply represent the world. It acts in the world.



Images: Lea Stuedahl


Berger, John; Ways of Seeing, 1972, Penguin Books

Carson, Anne; Autobiography of Red, 1998, Random House USA

Le Guin, Ursula; Words Are My Matter, 2016, Small Beer Press

Rich, Adrienne; The Dream of a Common Language, 1978, W.W. Norton & Company

Successful Photography, 1984, Eaglemoss