What do you see?

20th May 2016
20th May 2016

For the past few months, since beginning this photographic project, I have been uploading photos every day to an Instagram account. There are now many hundreds there. Every photo is different but every one is also the same.

Take this image. What do you see? A fist? An embryo? A fern? A mother and child? A helix? A shell? A heart in a rib cage? A mathematical formula?

Or do you see the green of leaves? Or of grasshoppers? Or do you see the sunlight of photosynthesis? Or the colour of green-frog cake icing?

Or do you see new life? Or the ferns of your childhood? Or unfolding possibility? Or the manifestation of life on Earth and in the universe?

Of course, I can pull back from the direct and open relation that is my absorbed gaze. When I do so, I can tell you when and where in the garden I took the photo. I can tell you that I was looking at a fern, which, I am sure, is of a certain nameable species. We might accept that these definitions are true. But we should not confuse a useful definition of what I am looking at with the truth about what is seen. If mistaken for a whole truth, it is a reduction of the experience of seeing. It is based on the false abstraction that I am an isolated named thing looking at another isolated named thing.

What I see depends on what my unconsciousness brings to mind, and the unconscious works by free association. What I see, therefore, is open to imagination. This is why Isaac Newton, sitting in his garden, could see that the apple was a planet. The laws of the universe were visible in an apple in a garden.

It is true that I am looking at a fern, but I may also truly see a mother and child, an embryo, and a heart in a rib cage. Looking at this species of fern I may also see other types of fern, other forms of plant life, other manifestations of life. I may truly see the universe unfolding.

There is a fence around my garden, but it is a legal artifact to keep out trespassers. It cannot usually stop my view extending outward, into my neighbour’s backyards, or upward, into the heavens, or downward, into the earth. And it cannot contain imagination, or ban metaphor, or keep out the rest of the universe.

Everything can be seen in my garden.


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