Spring Birds & Photography / by Brandon

Of late I've felt ambivalent about my own photography. As Juhani Pallasmaa wrote in The Eyes of the Skin, we've elevated sight above the other senses; we regard the world -- see the world, in that telling metaphor for understanding -- in a disproportionately visual way, diminishing our other senses and the fullness of lived experience.

As I capture a moment in an image, so much is left out. Sound, taste, smell, feel, knowledge. And this holds not only for the photograph but the time preceding it, during which I'm engaging the world with an eye -- again, a sight metaphor -- to producing an image. I'm paying too much attention to surface details. Seeing rather than experiencing, and transforming experience to aesthetic.

This holds all the more for photographing animals. It's not just that I can't capture in an image, say, the tremolo calls of tree swallows, or the thrill of having a migrating kestrel stop in my industrial Brooklyn neighborhood, the scurry of a killdeer, the tree creeper's sign of spring. More than that, I'm in some way turning a conscious being with its own inner experiences, an individual, into a two-dimensional visual referent of some species unit: no longer an individual, but a generic red-tailed hawk (in this case likely a juvenile, else it would have known better than to perch so low, in plain sight.)

It's not a reason to stop taking photographs, which is something I enjoy, the process of which encourages attentiveness. But it's something to keep in mind, a guiding principle, a reminder that an image is only one aspect of reality. And sometimes, when I encouter something especially beautiful or special, I can honor it by not taking any pictures at all.

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