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What We See Depends Upon Our Perspective

January 20, 2017

By Craig Blacklock

Amazing innovations in photography are coming along faster than most of us, even the pros, can keep up with. This is a relatively new development. I’ve been making photographs since I was a kid in the 1950s. For the first few decades of my career, my tools were not drastically different than those used by photographers of past generations. Every artist’s creative vision is limited by the physical parameters the tools allow. Thus, I, and my colleagues, learned to visualize within these restrictions placed upon our creativity.

Photography has always allowed us to see in ways that are different from our human vision. Photography can warp time, show light beyond what our eyes can detect, magnify what is too small or too far away to see. What it could not do very well was match our visual memory.

Then came digital image management (what most of us now think of as Adobe Photoshop™), and then digital photography. Digital photography was a dramatic shift in the physical way in which we captured light, making photography faster, easier, and higher quality. But, it did not, by itself, change our vision much.

Digital photography and digital image management made several innovations possible, and have dramatically expanded what we can physically photograph. Techniques like stacked focus to extend what is sharp, high dynamic range utilized to photograph scenes with extreme light and dark areas, and stitched panoramas that widen our view, finally made it possible for our creative vision and photographs to closely mimic our visual memory where everything is sharp, well-lit and seen in a wide format.

The newest, and perhaps most-dramatic photography innovation of late, has little to do with the camera, nor digital imaging, but is a way to transport the camera to places we’ve never been able to go before: the drone.

In the film “Dead Poets Society,” Robin Williams’ character has his students stand on his desk in order to see the world in a fresh way. Drones allow us to photograph what can be seen from that in-between height — what is above our heads, but lower, and closer to objects than planes or helicopters can safely fly. These images can show the face of a cliff and the scene below, rather than one or the other. They show us a new perspective, revealing a reality that we live with every day, but could not access.

In our fast-paced lives and in our polarized political climate, it is vital that we search out new perspectives. Rather than repeatedly examining things from our traditional viewpoints, which only reinforces old biases, we must adjust our position until we find a vantage point, which clearly reveals our problems and solutions. We must then let this new comprehension erase ideas formed when we could only see the world with a partial view.

One of the innovative ways we can change our vantage point is to shift our observation timeline from daily to yearly, decades-long, or even centuries-long.

By doing this, we open ourselves up to finding 
a different place, or different way to view 
our problems, and what we see can be very enlightening. We may discover that our vision was blurred or blocked, and that what now comes into view completely changes opinions based on our previous perspectives. Maybe, by looking at the complex world around us from a drone’s perspective, we can note our individual struggles and triumphs while keeping the wider world in view at the same time.

Innovations can help us to do cool and fun 
things, but they can also help us view our world 
in transformative ways, revealing new pathways
 that allow us to make comparisons and connections, bringing us together in our understanding, and uniting efforts towards a sustainable, healthier,
 and more humane planet.

Craig Blacklock’s photos and books, featuring images from Lake Superior, the Apostle Islands, and more can be seen on his website. 

Orginally printed in the Autumn 2016 issue of Mandala

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Mandala cover from fall 2017. The cover features a collage of images of Earl Bakken, and the University of Minnesota's "M"

Mandala is a biannual magazine produced by Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing. It captures the core aspects of the Center: reflection, transformation, spirituality, creation, and the ongoing journey that continues to shape what we are to become.

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The Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing blog covers a range of integrative health and wellbeing topics. For more information about our blog, contact us at csh@umn.edu