The Beacon, taken at Elgol, the Isle of Skye. This simple image goes deeper than just the rain and the wind: it touches on the essence of the Skye climate, telling of its power and its restlessness. It also expresses something about Skye as well – it’s resilience, its separation and, paradoxically, its vulnerability.
One thing we discover in life is that things are never what they seem. We find subjects, we see them, we may look hard at them and we photograph them; but somehow something is missing. If that’s what it feels like to you, you may be a ‘subject-oriented photographer’ – you see the object of your senses but its real essence eludes you.
Philosophically speaking you are capturing with your image making the ‘sensory object’ but are not able to penetrate the ‘real object’. That’s because it’s hard to do and it needs a different way of thinking. To give an example: today if I walk out with my camera, I will get wet, my senses will experience the rain dripping everywhere – it feels cold and uncomfortable. What I’m experiencing is the weather, but what is it that drives the weather? It’s something we cannot directly experience – it’s the climate. So think about the climate, the real object of my attention. But how do I photograph the climate? How do I approach the essence of our ever-changing atmosphere?
The answer is it’s difficult. The reality is hidden from us or ‘withdrawn’, as the great 20th-century philosopher Martin Heidegger described it, and our problem is that we are conscious of what we experience, which is the product of our senses. However, we can glimpse the reality that lies forever in the shadows, and that is thanks to the power of our non-conscious mind. The non-conscious is where the true power of our mind resides. In the formal language of some well-known cognitive psychologists:
‘compared with consciously controlled cognition, the nonconscious information-acquisition processes are incomparably faster and structurally more sophisticated. They allow for the development of procedural knowledge that is “unknown” to conscious awareness not merely because it has been encoded (and entered the memory system) through channels that are independent from consciousness. This knowledge is fundamentally inaccessible to the consciousness because it involves a more advanced and structurally more complex organization than could be handled by consciously controlled thinking.’ (Lewicki, Hill et al. 1992, p. 796)
Since these words were penned we have much more evidence of how the non-conscious works and how to develop it. And there are strategies available that allow us to power up our non-conscious ability in photography. They require practice, but the payoff is enormous: your ability to make the sophisticated judgements photography demands will become much more rapid and you will begin to recognise the essence behind what you are seeing. This is what The Master Photographer – the Journey from Good to Great is all about.
Lewicki, P., T. Hill and M. Czyzewska (1992). ‘Nonconscious Acquisition of Information’. American Psychologist 47(6): 796–801.