Your Transformation

In a Luminous Landscape article David Osborn said “The subject is not unique to you – your transformation is. ” This seems significant. Unless an image is an illustration or completely created as fantasy, the original is out there for anyone to see. The reason many people can paint or photograph the same subject, yet create fresh and unique works is because of what they add – their transformation.


My friend Cole Thompson calls this your vision. He says:

Years ago when I was challenged to find my own Vision, I immediately faced a dilemma: I really didn’t know what Vision was. Sure, had a vague idea but I could not define, identify or even understand it.

I had this notion that it was some sort of creative ability that you were either born with or not. This caused me great apprehension as I set about to find it: I feared that I might be one of those unfortunate individuals who did not “have it.” That scared me enough that I actually questioned if I wanted to go down this path: what if I discovered that I didn’t have a Vision?

Well, I did go down the discovery path and I did find my Vision. With that discovery I learned something very important:

We all have a Vision, every one of us is born with one. Unfortunately for many of us, and this was my case, it can become buried when we conform, follow the rules and value other people’s opinions more than our own. For some of us, me again, my Vision was so buried for so long that I came to believe that I didn’t have one.

As a summary he concludes:

Vision is simply the sum total of our life experiences, that allows us to see the world in a unique way.

This was captured very cleverly by a French priest and philosopher:

Everyone looks at what I am looking at but no one sees what I see.

Félicité Lamennais

No one sees what I see

In my interpretation, it implies that each of us individually perceive something different about each scene. We”transform” it differently because of our viewpoint and experience. This is our vision coming to play.

If we do not transform a scene and make it our own, we are at best just a web cam pointed at the world and recording the events that happen in front of us. You look at a web cam for facts, e.g. is it raining there. You are not tempted to print out one of its images and hang it on your wall. It has no soul. No vision.

My history and experience and values are different from yours. This means I see most things differently. As an artist I am not only free, I have a responsibility to interpret an image according to my personal filter.

An experiment

Try this experiment: take a couple of artist friends with you and go together to some location – any location. All of you spend, say, 15-30 minutes photographing the location. No fair getting more than about 10 yards from anyone else. Then go back and compare your images. Yes, probably you will all shoot a “record” shot of the location. I often do for context. But if the artists are each confident in their own vision they will begin to diverge. At the same location and almost the exact same position, you will see different images.

Maybe one artist sees in telephoto. Maybe another see wide angle. One is drawn to “intimate landscapes” (in the style of Eliot Porter). Another thrives on chaos and another captures order and serenity. Black and white, dynamic composition, high key, low key, extreme color, ask are reasonable approaches..

The point is that there will be different results at the same location because each artist sees and perceives the scene differently.


So like Cole Thompson, I give up wondering if I have vision. I do. It is the effect of my life experience, history, education, values, and outlook. Because it is unique to me, I see something different than you.

This is powerful and good. Life would be a lot more boring if it were not true.

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