Point Of View

My Grandmother told me when I was a little girl: We live in our language.

I have contemplated and questioned the wisdom in her words ever since.

Photography and writing are two wonderful forms of art, because there is a lot of room to experiment and play with Point Of View (POV). In my experience, both art forms are languages in their own right.

As an example of POV, I will tell you a story about two photographs I took several years ago, of a flowering desert cactus. Even though the subject matter of the photos is exactly the same, they each express a very different message.

The first picture was taken from average adult human eye height, looking down at a patch of stony, sandy ground with a tiny blotch of color in the middle. There was nothing particularly interesting about this image, so I threw it in the trash. Its Point Of View was best described as: Looking down upon the flowers of the earth.

In our modern English language, the phrase To Look Down Upon Something or Someone means to have no respect.

Physically, we see with the back of our brains, not our eyes. Mentally and emotionally, we see through the filters of words and phrases. The information of language has been stored in our brain since childhood through millions of connections we have learned to make through experience.

How does language influence our view of life and the world?

Let’s look at the second photo I took of the same desert flowers about 30 seconds later, from a different point of view. The camera settings were the same and no post production software was used to enhance the digital image.

Photo © 2006 Simone Walraven

The Point Of View is now from the ground up, looking at the flowers as they show their splendor to the Sun and the Sky. In our modern English language, the phrase To Look Up to Someone or Something means to be respectful.

When I first started photographing in 1989, I habitually chose my POV without even thinking about it. Consequently my early photographs were quite bland and uninteresting.

It took an African painter with a different cultural background than my own to explain, that I was photographing things in a way that people saw them all the time, which made them look ordinary and boring. She told me it is the job of an artist to present the ordinary things of life in an extraordinary way.

Through photography, I learn over and over again to seek for different perspectives to meet the same world in a new way. My camera has better eyes than me. I am astonished at how many things my eyes skip, partly because of a belief that I already know what I am looking at.

The cactus flowers proved once again that I did not know what I was looking at when I took the first boring picture. When I saw the second photograph on my computer screen, the flowers’ explosive colors, design and Life Power knocked my preconceptions of what a cactus was into smithereens.

I am amazed at how habits of language and thought can narrow the experience of life.

I am also amazed to learn that not any one human has the same Point Of View as another, because no mind is exactly alike.

During the past 35 years, since the early 1970s, 25 to 30% of all wildlife has vanished from our planet. If things continue as they are, half of all the animals that were alive when I was born will be gone by the time I am a grandmother.

I think the moment to reconsider our perspective on our relationship with the natural world is past due.

How do we reconsider?

There is the physical reality, such as recycling, renewable energy, responsible farming and reforestation, which are all of vital importance to a healthy future. However, there is also the mental, emotional and spiritual question of the physical changes that need to be made.

How do we relate in a more intimate, fulfilling way to this wondrous planet of stones, volcanoes, rivers, plants, forests, animals, flowers, rain, wind, seas and snow? Why are we here? Why is Life precious? Who are we? Why does it matter to protect the everyday miracles? What for? And what will we do with the world once we have saved it?

Happy pondering!

With Love,

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