This week I assigned my students one of my favorite projects in the 2D Illustration/Photoshop class — creating an alphabet with found non-manipulated objects. It involves the student going out and seeking letters of the alphabet in forms present in the real world, whether indoors or out. When you look at a chair from the side, for instance, it typically forms an “L” shape. Certain letters are easy to find and all over the place — “O” for instance, but others can be tricky and really require the student to look into forms in the world, but also even skew their own perspective if necessary. The project also teaches several additional principles including composing vs. cropping, and light and dark balance.
Technical know-how aside, observation is often exponentially more crucial to the overall effect of a photograph, no matter the camera used or one’s technical mastery of equipment or Photoshop in post-production. Our culture particularly relies heavily upon observation while taking in face-to-face verbal communication. The best example of this, I believe, can be found in the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates. Many who listened to the debates on the radio believed that Nixon’s arguments and rhetoric were better, but those who watched him on television saw a fidgeting, sweating man and tended to favor Kennedy because of his cool and collected body language. There’s a great article about it here:
Individual perception is also important to observation. An abysmal one-half percent of all music is selected and broadcast for public consumption, and many people think that because that music is on the radio or on MTV that it is therefore good, or the best out there. Obviousy, there is a huge amount of music elsewhere that is excellent and produced independently. The ability to observe what’s popular verses what is good is an invaluable characteristic for anyone with a creative mind or career, but finding alternative types of music actually requires the listener to not only know themselves and what they like and why, but to seek out these alternative forms in a massive marketplace with hardly anywhere to start. Hal Shows and the Catbirds, for instance is the greatest band on earth. You think you’ll hear their stuff on the radio? Uh no… hello!