It is an illusion that photos are made with a camera … they are made with the eye, heart and head.

 – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Anyone remember those long car rides when you were growing up and headed out on a vacation?  It didn’t matter where we were going or how long it was going to take to get there. It didn’t matter that we had books to read, crayons or pencils to draw with or “car-sized” games to play for the ride. It didn’t even matter if we had special snacks. Usually, after about thirty minutes (patient level of our youth if our parents were lucky), THAT question erupted. You know it – “Are we there yet?!?”

I have three sisters. I think we got through maybe one rotation of that question before my mother had enough. At that point, she may have issued a warning about what might happen next if she heard that question one more time. That may have also come with the “look”. But she didn’t stop there. She gave us something else to do. We were directed to play “The Cloud Game.” Remember that?

Look out the window at the clouds and share what you see in them. No, the answer is not clouds … We would see Mickey Mouse, a dog, a bear, a fish, a wave – anything but a cloud. This was early practice for making the distinction between what we were “looking at” and what we were “seeing.” The only wrong answer was “clouds.” Everything else was fair game. Now, fast forward to me as a photographer.

A more intimate view of a magnolia


You know this, right? What we look at is not all there is. What we photograph – everything – all have a name for what it is: a boat, a flower, a barn, cows, bricks, and, yes, clouds. What we look at, what we photograph, are first identified by their “fill-in-the-blank” name. What we SEE in each one of them is usually different and much more.

LOOK … to direct one’s gaze toward someone or something or in a specific direction.

The reason, as I perceive, is that when we look at something, we are using our eyes primarily, and we are in the stage of identifying the thing.

When we move past the looking and identifying stage and get on with the “seeing,” we are using far more than our eyes. We are making use of all our senses (sight, sound, smell, touch) and more. Sometimes, probably more often than we realize, we are also responding to our mood, moments of light, shadow & darkness, and whatever memory the thing may evoke. When we do this, our images can become more impactful. When we tap into what the thing (whatever it is) brings into our mind and heart, our images become stronger.

I’m more inclined to relate to what Merriam-Webster has to say about seeing:

SEE … to perceive by the eye (similar to looking), but further expands: to be aware of, to imagine a possibility, to form a mental picture, to perceive the meaning or importance of, and to come to know … discover.

Seeing more than pines and palmettos

So, how does this fit into how I see the world and how I work with my images to go beyond the looking into the seeing. Sometimes it comes more easily than others, but my images are always stronger when I go beyond photographing what the subject “IS.”

Seeing beauty drip from the petals of a dahlia



I’ll begin with a subject within my photography that does not come easily. Generally, I don’t photograph people, but, every once in a while, an opportunity that is irresistible and unexpected presents itself. Some years ago, I met my niece and great-niece on location at my painted barns – subjects I have loved and photographed for over twenty years. We visited for a while, and I took some pictures of them. When I looked at them later, one stood out from the rest. Break it down: I was photographing family, a mother and daughter. I don’t “do people,” but I try and do my best. In this image, we all are looking at two young ladies that no one else knows but me. What I see beyond that is a special moment. I see love. And, when I processed it, I made the effort to have that love and beauty reflected in the image. The image is not about what I was looking at.

When you consider photographers who photograph people, especially street photography portraits, there is always more to the images than a person on the streets. There are stories presented in the location, in the expression, the clothing, the aged faces and hands, and so much more. Those photographers are working quickly and are open to whatever presents itself – quite different from formal portrait photography in that respect. As I have not dabbled in street photography, I’m thinking that more thought goes into the finished image when all the images are viewed later.

Capturing a moment of love


I love photographing the rural and coastal landscapes – farms, old barns, equipment, rolling hills or the flatlands (where I live) and harbors, shrimp boats and ropes. Not everyone is able to appreciate the beauty of a falling down barn or crop or tractors, but I do. A big reason for this is that I have and make connections – emotional and nostalgic. My father grew up on a farm. I know more than a few farmers. I talk with them about their lifestyle. Farming is hard work – period. And, yet, all the farmers I’ve met endure all the challenges that nature and a changing world present. They keep on keeping on until they can’t. Some of what is different is that younger generations have different ideas, and their love of the land and farming and hard work are waning. That’s when the barns get left behind and eventually fall down, disappear. And THAT is what I see when I look at an old barn or rusted pieces of farm equipment – a fading lifestyle. I have this same sentimental connection when I visit some of my favorite coastal towns that hold the shrimpers and old-school fishing vessels. Those white-boot wearing watermen – the ones I talk with – wouldn’t do anything else because they love the water and its ways. Hard, hard work, but they love it and will do it until they can’t.

Seeing this barn and knowing it was the very last time.

I see more than boats and boots and nets at the docks. I see passions holding on. I see scenes that one day will be gone, never to return. I see the farmers and fishermen and families that are holding onto the life and livelihood they love. Maybe, the next time you stop on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere or in a small fishing village that is full of wabi sabi (beauty in decay), force yourself to do more than “look” and grab a few shots. Make the time to see more.

The Big Picture – boats and docks at the end of the road

Presenting beauty in the old boat that has seen better days and would see no more