new way of seeing

Not seeing in order to see

by Steve Brock on September 7, 2017

The sign outside read “Public Convenience.” Leave it to the British, I thought, to come up with such a polite euphemism. It’s actually more accurate than our term, “Restrooms.” After all, people don’t actually rest in there, do they? But convenient, especially after a few too many cups of tea? Indeed.

Equally convenient are the wavy glass panes used for the window of this particular public restroom, er, convenience, in Chipping Camden, England. The wavy glass lets the light in, but provides privacy to those, uh, convening, or resting or using the loo or whatever phrase you care to choose. That same wavy glass also provides (or at least it did for me), a lovely object lesson.

Take a look at what I saw from inside the Public Convenience.

It looks like the world we know, but not quite. Everything is familiar, yet distorted. If I hadn’t told you it was a wavy glass window, would you know what this picture was? You might think I’d messed about in Photoshop or otherwise distorted the image.

But encountering this view in real life forced me to look at it again. And again. And that’s the whole point.

We never (or rarely) do that.

We are loathe to take the second look because, let’s face it: why bother? There’s no time. Or no reason. We have plenty of new things to see. Why pause and re-examine what we just looked at?

Because what we just looked at, we didn’t really see.

Quick. Don’t cheat and glance up. But tell me, how many doors are on the house in the photo? How many chimneys? Windows? What color is the bicycle? How many panes are there in the window?

You might be able to recall the building was yellow and that there was a bicyclist in it. Did you recall any of the other details?

You’re in good company. Only when I re-examined the photo did I see any of that. And why did I re-examine this photo? Because it intrigued me. Something about the distortion of reality made me want to see reality better.

Let’s go deeper (cue the woo-woo music).

I think God throws variations like this window at us all the time. God gets our attention with something curious. We then have a choice: Pursue it or ignore it. The pursuit, however, requires us to pause and take notice, to yield to the hint, the glimmer, the still small voice, which then reveals so much more. For example, one of the most delightful things I encountered in the myriad English gardens on this trip were the diverse types of bees humming about. The bumblebees there (24 species, to be exact) don’t look like the ones where I live. So I noticed them.

But I didn’t notice the one right in front of me on the window until I took a closer look at this photo. The bee is likely too small for you to see unless you click on the photo for the enlarged version. It’s near the middle about the same height up from the bottom of the photo as the bicyclist’s back. See it?

I’d never have bothered had this been a normal, clear window. It was only because of the anomaly or novelty of the wavy glass view that I made the effort to look.

I believe every day is filled with such examples. Scenes right before me that God wants me to notice for no other reason than to bring me joy. There’s nothing important about this photo. But every time I look at it now, I see something new. Something more. Something that delights. And all the distortions in it make me want to go take a look at the “real” world with new eyes. In part to appreciate it better. And in part to reconsider what is real and what is distorted and to learn the difference.

Beware of stepping into a Public Convenience. You never know what you’ll see.


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A different look at Brugge

by Steve Brock on February 6, 2014

Brugge SunsetSpeaking of memories (as I was doing last time about Brugge, Belgium), bear with me on this little road trip down memory lane for one more post here on The Meaningful Traveler.

Last time I showed you several photos that represented some fond memories of the Belgium city. But this time, I want to show you a shot (above) of the most photographed view of the place. It’s like the overlook view of the Grand Canyon or Machu Picchu: everyone takes it.

So while there, of course I wanted my own little digital version of it as well. But not the usual. So what did I take? I photographed the same location everyone else does, but not the same subject. In this case, shooting late in the afternoon as the sun descended, my target wasn’t the usual canal or buildings or perhaps a passing boat. Instead, I focused on the sun itself as it turned everything else in the shot into silhouettes and shadows.

I’ll let you be the judge if it works as a photo. And yes I did add some texture to it in Photoshop to give it some added punch since the sky was pretty boring. But even if it is only a nice attempt, to me that’s a success. Why?

There’s great value in approaching the familiar with a new take just to create something fresh. But another benefit is that the exercise forces you to think about and see things differently. That, in turn, equips you to apply that new insight to other places and situations in the future (see, for example, my shots of Arches taken a month after this trip to Europe but also directly into the setting sun).

What started as a desire to not do the same old shot as everyone else now becomes another tool in my tool chest of photography, creativity and perception.

Creativity begets creativity. With ideas, it’s one area where more really is better. The more ideas you have, well, the more ideas you have. And better ones. Quantity leads to quality.

So go out and find a familiar sight. Then try to discover at least a dozen ways to photograph it, even if it is just with your smart phone. Not all (or even most) will be great. But the exercise will make you not only a better photographer, but a better traveler.

You will have expanded your visual vocabulary and that is definitely something that will come in handy on your next trip, or in life in general. It is just one step further along in helping you better see the world in a new way. And after all, isn’t that really one of the main reasons you travel?

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Look closely

by Steve Brock on September 4, 2013

If I’m talking to people about contracts, legal fine print or instructions for using their new smart phone, the phrase I hear is this: “The devil is in the details.” If, on the other hand, the subject is more pleasant like unpacking the meaning of a great movie or the secret ingredient of a recipe, I’ll hear this: “God is in the details.”

Which is it?

I’ll let you decide based on the circumstance. However, when it comes to finding new ways to perceive the familiar, I’ll land squarely in the God camp. Often the best way to see something with fresh eyes is to look at the details. That’s where you often find the hidden wonder.

I’ll stick with the Arc de Triomphe for one more example. Most people look at the Arc and what do they see? A large triumphant, Roman-like victory arch. The monument itself.

La Marseillaise-overviewBut look more closely.

The Arc’s facade is covered with six sculpted reliefs. In addition, there are four main sculptures around the Arc, each monumental in size as the image above shows. This particular one, The Departure of the Volunteers by Francois Rude is more commonly known as La Marseillaise. It’s an impressive piece of work showing an allegorical representation of France as she leads her people.

Just taking time to pay attention to the sculptures themselves is one thing, but the wonder comes when you go even closer. Check out this shot of the face of the lead figure:

La Marseillaise-detail

Not a face you see every day. I might have missed this altogether and gone my way content with the views from the top of the Arc. Thankfully, in the small museum near the top they have placed this version of La Marseillaise which made me curious to see the bigger sculpture outside:

La Marseillaise-interior

It’s easy to walk right past sculptures and public art. But on this day, I was given the reminder to look closer. Pay attention. Notice the details.

I reluctantly visited the Arc de Triomphe just so my family could take a quick look. But by looking more closely at the details and later, at home, reading up on the history and background of it, I have a whole new sense of appreciation.

It’s still a big, brazen monument smack dab in the middle of Paris. But now I realize it is also something much more.

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Turn around

by Steve Brock August 28, 2013

When everyone else looks one direction at the popular sights, you may have a more meaningful experience by simply turning around and looking the other way.

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Looking on the inside

by Steve Brock August 20, 2013

Next time you want to see a place in a new way, don’t just look at the outside. Look inside. Even in places you didn’t think you could…

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Looking beyond what you see

by Steve Brock August 14, 2013

As I discovered photographing the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, sometimes the best way to see something is to look beyond (or in front of) what you actually see.

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Start before you leave

by Steve Brock August 6, 2013

Why wait until your destination to start looking for wonder on a trip? It may be closer than you think but you have to be present and prepared to see it.

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