What We See
Reya Mellicker, a photographer and body worker, reflects on how photography opens our eyes and minds to new possibilities.
It’s daunting when the truth sinks in, the truth that we humans don’t actually see everything we see. Photons bouncing around like super balls at the speed of light enter the eye through the cornea and pupil, forming a pattern that gets reversed on the movie screen of the retina, then transferred along the optic nerve to the inner sanctum of the brain. It’s there, in the darkest recesses at the center of the head, that we see.
Vision is profoundly subjective, a carefully edited picture of the world that is selected by our brains according to genetic and cultural criteria, filtered through the lens of personal history, individual values and a boatload of assumptions.
The truth is that visually, we scan for what we know, for what we expect and for what we value, ignoring all the rest, which is a pretty narrow view when you think about it. But put a lens between the human eye and the world, capture an image, and many possibilities open up. Photography presents us with a way to see the unseen, to notice what isn’t usually obvious, and in so doing, opens the mind’s eye in many ways.
In photographs, we are given a glimpse of the world through the eye, and in many ways through the heart, of other beholders. Suddenly we are able to see things and people, situations and landscapes, perspectives, angles, colors and shapes that we might never have noticed on our own. The more we look at photographs, the easier it is to perceive what we’re accustomed to ignoring. By looking at pictures, we can’t help but become interested in different perspectives, different versions of the world from our own. Photography creates a bridge between what we expect to see, and all there really is to see.
Photographs have the power to stop time, giving us the luxury of examining a moment carefully and fully. Photographs take us to remote locales, helping us imagine the reality of far away places. Pictures take us back in time, allowing us to sit and gaze into the faces of our ancestors and great historical figures. In that way, we intuit the way life was during decades long past, and contemporary ways of life very different from our own.
Photography creates a visual wholeness, extends perspective to include points of view other than our own, opens the heart, and cultivates a sense of curiosity. Though it has never been measured by the experts who study these things, surely photography furthers the process of forging new neural networks, paths that literally accommodate a wider view of the world visually as well as philosophically.
Photography is literally an eye opening evolutionary process that brings the unseen into the light. What we see, how much we are capable of seeing, but especially what we think about what we see is powerfully influenced by photography. What would we see without it?