Layers of Perception

For years I’ve been interested in photographing scenes through various types of barriers or screens. The most obvious “barrier” that might change the way the world looks is a window, and I like it obscured – by raindrops, fog, dirt, whatever. Fences, nets and clear plastic tarps are interesting to look through, too. Seeing the world through snowfall is magical, and a mass of tangled branches or grasses can become another screen that veils the landscape. Even a spiderweb can be a diaphanous curtain between you and what lies beyond. Admittedly, our natural tendency is to focus on the fine design of a spiderweb and stop there. But another way to observe the scene is to allow the details to shift out of focus, then take in the gestalt of the whole scene, front to back.

 

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Seeing the world through a screen or a barrier can encourage you to enter into a hazier kind of perception, switching off the defining mind that wants to label everything it discerns. This alternate way of seeing can enlarge your perceptual world. Objects behind a translucent barrier are less defined and often abstracted, allowing you to let go of the habitual mental state of identifying and naming, and rest your gaze on pure form and color.

Reversing the process and observing the details of a barrier’s own properties, like the specks of dirt on a window or the finely woven texture of a net, is another way to expand perception and appreciate the whole of what is. Right in front of you.

 

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Once I get started taking pictures through a barrier, I like to play with the elements of the scene. The emphasis might shift between planes, or it might be about layers of different planes, a dance of different surfaces. In any case, I believe that loosening the perceptual process can allow new relationships to emerge.

There are examples in previous posts here, here and here and a few more in this post. Most of them involve looking through fogged up conservatory windows. For this post I’ve corralled a handful of images photographed through a variety of objects. A few focus on the barrier itself. I hope some of them catch your imagination.

 

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The photos:

  1. Shade cloth is pulled over a section of greenhouse roof.  I was drawn to the contrasting light and dark shapes and textures, and the softening of the window frames’ crisp outlines under the shade cloth. Taken with an Olympus E-M1 and a  60mm f2.8 macro lens, processed in Lightroom.
  2. Again I was drawn to contrasting surfaces – the minutely detailed condensation on the glass versus the blurred glow of sunlight on the trees outside. Photographed with a 45mm f1.8 lens, processed in Lightroom.
  3. It was deck cleaning day at my old apartment. A worker hosed the deck down with a pressure washer, and the screen and door were soaking wet. As he paused to check his equipment, I photographed the scene. The colors glowed and nothing outside the window was clear, but the houseplants indoors were sharply outlined. Photographed with a 45mm f1.8 lens, processed in Lightroom.
  4. Peering across the water through red cedar branches; Cranberry Lake, Fidalgo Island. Photographed with a vintage Takumar 28mm f3.5 lens, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  5. At an agricultural research facility some fruit trees are covered with nets to protect them from hungry birds and animals. At the far end of the day with the sun deep into the horizon, the apple tree’s stiff, silhouetted contours set against the net’s fine texture and soft folds got my attention. Photographed with a Motorola Android phone, processed in Lightroom.
  6. Removing the color can allow one to focus more on form, texture and line, and less on identifying the object. I was intrigued by the net’s presence as it hovered between flimsiness and solidity. Photographed with a phone, processed in Silver Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  7. My eye was caught by graceful curves and elegant folds in the netting complementing the curled up, dried leaves and apples caught inside. Photographed with a phone, processed in Lightroom.
  8. Late-day light did the work, showing off the protected tree’s form as if it were a sculpture in a museum. Photographed with a phone, processed in Lightroom.
  9. Extra nets piled behind a greenhouse seem very substantial when they’re bundled up; at the same time, there is a textured transparency to them.  Photographed with a phone, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  10. Black and white emphasizes the angled light on the draped folds of the sheltering net. Photographed with a phone, processed in Lightroom, using a black and white profile, then tweaking it.
  11. An apple and leaf press against the confining net, and its textured grid flattens out the picture plane. EM-1 camera with 60mm f2.8 macro lens, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  12. At Washington Pass in the North Cascades (elev. 5,476′ or 1,669m), red leaves of a low-growing shrub push through the bare, dead branches of an evergreen, creating a filigree of layered branches, twigs and leaves. EM-1 camera with 12 – 40mm f2.8 zoom lens, processed in Color Efex pro and Lightroom.
  13. A vine sprawls across a roof at a nursery. I like the way shapes are simplified when seen through this translucent roofing material. Photographed with a phone, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  14. A tree trunk seen through the crossing branches of a Red huckleberry bush (Vaccinium parvifoluium). EM-1 camera with 40 – 150mm f4.0-5.6 zoom lens, processed in Lightroom.
  15. A book title winks from between the slats of a bookcase.  EM-1 camera with vintage Takumar 28mm f3.5 lens, processed in Lightroom.

 


58 comments

  1. There’s a certain ominous mystery to #8 that I really like. Off the bat, I can conjure up a half a dozen scenarios about the image. And #12 is truly an amazing image. It’s right there in my wheelhouse (whatever that means). Nice work, Lynn.

    • #8 didn’t look mysterious to me at the time, really, but it certainly was dramatic with the raking sun and the bagged trees. You never know…and I’d hesitate to ask about your imaginings. 😉 That #12 disappointed me because it wasn’t as sharp as I’d like. Lots of noise. That day there was heavy smoke from fires to the east; in fact, we only stayed out of the car about 20 minutes at the pass becasue it became really uncomfortable. I actually think the smoke distorted the photos a little, but it’s probably not all that noticeable on the blog. So in the end, since it’s in your wheelhouse, I’m glad I worked on it and included it here. Thank you Ken!!

  2. Only you can think of such interesting and challenging use of physical layers in photography. Your photos, except for No.3, are indeed thought, and imagination, provoking.

  3. Very striking indeed. I particularly like the B & W as that adds another ‘layer’ to your idea.

    But number 3 also is a favourite. Almost like a Japanese inspired abstract piece of art.

    (I’m a big fan of window reflections, especially if the glass is old and varying thicknesses).

    • Thanks Vicki, and it’s interesting you single out the black and whites. The more I do them, the more I like them. Yes, window reflections and looking through messy ones are both so much fun. We probably both stared out through many a window in our younger years….

  4. Mmmm… my favorites are the wild tangle of branch and color in #12. Then #13 -I imagine the leaves wanting to get through the grid of the roofing material. Both such wonderful sprawls. Or perhaps it was the bit of weeding I just did outside that had me thinking that way? That green stuff sure likes to take over with just that 0.8 inch we had this past week. And #15 seems to also be saying “let me out of here”!

    • Yes, the vine wants to work its way inside! 🙂 The conservatory I used to go to in NY, near where I lived, has plants that have busted right out of the windows, from the inside. I always loved that. Happy travels Gunta!

  5. Terrific set. And a good reason to never clean your lens 🙂

    You can also look at a barrier or screen as a metaphor for photographs themselves: In coming between the viewer and an actual subject, they also change the way we see reality.

    • Such a good comment, Alan, thanks. There is much more that could be said, hopefully not too pedantically. I try to avoid that but also recognize that there’s value to getting a point across, or introducing an idea. I like the way your thought brings us back to a fundamental quality.
      And I so appreciate the humor….

  6. I love seeing the world through your eyes and the barriers you choose! It is so unique! Looking at picture nr. 2 and 3 my first thoughts were “strange living forms” behind the glass. I don’t know, I had strange dreams last night. This seems to be the prosecution, haha! Nr. 2 could also be an interesting abstract painting. Everything is possible right. I like the pictures with branches and leaves almost see-through, always such beautiful patterns, but I also like the “art of network” you captured so well! Christo would have appreciated it 🙂 Again inspiring pictures that create patterns in my head, prickling and tickling my brane (if one can say so 🙂 With dizzy thoughts from here.

    • Maybe not unique, but not typical. 😉 They are living forms behind the glass in #2 & #3, and they do look strange, so your thought made sense to me. When you say everything is [possible, I like it – part of what I want to do is expand possibilities. I’m sure you have looked through branches in the same way I have, too. And Christo, yes! Perfect. He would love the nets on the trees at the apple orchard. I wonder when they will take them down….It could also be an interesting look with trees that have lost their leaves, but I’m sure they will come and remove the nets, and put them away until next year. I’m always happy to prickle and tickle your brain, Almuth, thank you so much for being here, it’s a delight.

  7. I’m right with you re looking at the world through screens, definitely. For me the stand out image here is 2 – extremely striking! And 12 too, for very different reasons; and 4 and 8. I don’t know is you edit the code behind the posts as I do, but I can send you a simple line of code that will enable your links to open in separate windows – I could email it to you – but this is no big thing, because when someone has used your current links, they can always use the Back button to get back to your current blog page again. A

    • I’m glad you like #2, and glad I grabbed he camera in time, because it didn’t last long. The condensation evaporated. It’s all even numbers (2,4,8,12) today, Adrian, maybe you should play those in the lottery? ‘-)
      Yes, email me that code, it will be a big help. thanks you very much! Eager to learn….

  8. Impossible to pick a favorite, or even to narrow it down to two or three. I love this approach and the experimentation with perceptual lenses, these are so cool.
    Just north of where I grew up, is Wayne County, home to all sorts of unusual ideas over the years. (I always drink bottled water and bring a flare gun when I drive around up there). A hundred years ago, the Fox Sisters lived there, and helped start up a craze for “Spiritualism” and while I have no time for sham seances, sometimes the language this group used was poetic – your wonderful photos remind me of their hazy “manifestations” and talk of “piercing the veil” between the physical and the spiritual worlds.

    • It’s great to hear that you enjoy thinking about this, and experimenting. I had to look up Wayne County – which is northwest of where I grew up, just on the western edge of Syracuse. (We could have been almost neighbors). I can see it looks like a whole ‘nother world up there. But I haven’t heard of the Fox sisters….and I’m flattered to be accused of working to pierce the veil. I like it. It’s thinner than we think. And hazy can be a good thing.
      https://www.wisdompubs.org/book/hazy-moon-enlightenment

      • I surely hope I didn’t offend? Certainly not commenting on anyone’s beliefs or philosophy. I only meant to say, I loved the language employed by the Spiritualists, which may well have drawn on some Buddhist concepts, I don’t know, and the photos reminded me of that movement’s descriptions. I haven’t studied the upstate spiritualists’ doctrines, only run across them in 19th c. history, and then again after WWI. While they had many sincere adherents, the Foxes were not sincere, and eventually confessed to fraud, and demonstrated a number of parlor tricks they’d used to gull witnesses. But the concepts certainly struck a chord with thousands of people- – Frederick Douglass delivered a lecture on it in my village, where he knew some of the abolitionists & early suffragettes (but I haven’t yet found out what he had to say.).

      • Not at all – sorry for any misunderstanding – my reply isn’t too clear – I’m going away tomorrow and have been distracted today. . 🙂 I looked up the Fox sisters, what a story, as you describe. But again as you said, it’s interesting that the concepts were so popular, and the connection to the abolitionists is interesting, too.

  9. Fantastic post, Lynn. Everything we see is filtered in one way or another: through our very own eyes, through contacts or eyeglasses, through camera lenses, and through windows. In some cases, they are multi-filtered. And for a more modern example, there are images displayed through pixelated graphics. How often is what we see not in any way really what we see? I find barriers fascinating as well. I was actually watching Season 6 of The Americans, and there’s this minor character of an artist. She’s dying of cancer, and she sits in bed and draws in nearly every scene she’s in. They keep cutting away once in awhile to her art on the surrounding walls. They are all portraits of women that appear to be behind a glass pane, like a shower cubicle. This “glass” looks like it is fogged up to the degree that the condensation has swelled and formed drops and run down the pane, which of course skews the images of the women. I absolutely love it, just as I do these pics you’ve included in this post.

    • Such a thoughtful comment, I appreciate that. Those scenes sound wonderful and your description is compelling. I haven’t watched that series, maybe I should – ah, there’s so much media “stuff” out there!

  10. It seems to me that what you’re doing here is an illustration of the thesis that we are only aware of a part of our environment; that there is much more around us than what we see, and yet we believe just what we see. This is a common theme in the arts, and is also employed in psychology, using indistinct impressions on paper to test for those things we hide from others, and often from ourselves. I especially like #5. My ideal, in chasing after such images, is an image in which one can continue to follow a certain context, barely aware of the other context(s), until we switch context. This could certainly be a complete project, Lynn.

    • Yes, I’m always interested in bringing awareness to things that people normally don’t see. And I’ve been interested in psychology for many years. That’s a great connection you made, Shimon. Looking under the surface, looking past the surface, or looking at a surface that we typically don’t notice – all are interesting exercises to broaden perception and enrich our world.
      I’m glad you like #5; I thought it was one of the more successful photographs. The project you describe sounds really interesting, and intellectually rich. I need to give all of this more thought! Thank you so much for being present here.

  11. In #4 you again show what’s important in what way: the close-up needles as sharp as can be; the background in supporting—not competing—soft forms. . . .You’ve positioned yourself in #5 so that the undulations of the netting interact with the tree just so. Like others in this collection, this photo is an object lesson in the primacy of eye over gear. . . .I love that little touch of green netting surrounded by the white in #9. . . .That netting (looking at #10 now) is a treasure trove for you. So glad you found it. . . .I find what you say about “loosening the perceptual process” quite appealing. Wielding a camera is a wonderful (and easy) way to “let go of the habitual mental state of identifying and naming, and rest your gaze on pure form and color.” Thank you for these inspiring words and photographs. Thanks also for the links to some of your other work. It’s great to see it again. I’ve been tempted to comment in your last few posts that Fidalgo seems to have boosted your creativity. But revisiting the old work shows me that the more accurate observation is that the move has not dimmed your eye one bit. It’s all good, very very good.

    • Sorry for the very late reply, and thank you for the detailed comments, Linda. 🙂 I love your comment about #5, that’s a nice one! #9 is the type of scene you would photograph perfectly, I just know it. What a pleasure it is to hear your appreciation for the philosophy, and even for the older posts! You are too kind, but hey, keep it coming! 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Howard, and I think anyone who’s trained in a technical field tends to rely heavily on that defining mind. It’s obviously useful, but it can also be valuable to hone the ability to turn that off. Sorry for the late reply!

  12. Interesting to think in terms of layers or filtering. I could see that more in some of your fogged up conservatory window shots. Most of these (the netting and leaves) I still tend to see first in terms of the patterns of the barrier – the gestalt comes secondarily. That works particularly well on 8 and 10, but even if I don’t see as much depth on 6 it works great as a b/w.

    • Yes, some of these photos don’t necessarily illustrate the idea of seeing through a barrier. I was thinking about looking at the barrier itself too, as well as though it, but I didn’t articulate that well – I should have. In #6 especially, as you point out, the net becomes the object one looks at, and that was what I liked – the way something inherently flimsy became as solid as a sculpture, almost. I’m glad you pointed this out, and that you liked that image in black and white, Dave. Thank you for commenting!

  13. “Admittedly, our natural tendency is to focus on the fine design of a spiderweb and stop there.” Yes! I’m always getting distracted by the beautiful geometry of the web itself and have never tried to use it as a screen for capturing the image beyond. Now off to hunt for 🕸 to try your method.

  14. The netting and screening in these images almost looks alive. It creeps into view and invokes what is beyond even as it comes into contact with it. It’s inquisitive. Daring to touch the scenery. Unable to be dismissed…

    Michael

    • You have chosen a stimulating theme and I love the various interpretations of the initial idea. The images invite a thinking response from the viewer and there is evidence of that from the above comments.

    • I bet it does! I heard yesterday that the nets are primarily being used to keep Codling moths (Cydia pomonella) from the trees, but I don’t know any more than that, or even if that’s true. I understand they’re just about everywhere now – maybe you’ve had trouble with them too. I hope not!

  15. Wonderful again, dear Lynn. As you know, I love taking away the world’s definiteness by layers. The way you make the layer a topic for itself pleases me very much. It gives a kind of second chance to both layer an motive behind, and often a special beauty normally overseen in every day objects. Thank you again for inspiration.
    Love
    Ule

    • 🙂 I don’t know how well it will actually work, to see something through a spider web, but today I saw what I can only call “double webs” – they were made on a docs hand rails and at most junctures there were two webs connecting to the posts, inches away from each other. You have to wonder how that can work but I guess it does. p.s. I took photos! 🙂

  16. Some of your other friends have already alluded to if not specifically addressed my own observation, but I will state it anyway…it seems that all of your/our efforts behind the camera are a reflection of perception…namely, the photographers’: our perceptions of the physical world through the lenses of our minds as touched by our experiences and then captured in the mood and light of the day, as well as the mood and light of our own selves as we stand there and behold whatever it is that has so struck us. You have mentioned previously that our own experiences inform our work and provide the texture in which we present it…and I offer the same back to you now, Lynn…it’s all about perception. And what a compelling array of images, too. I would choose #4 as a favorite. 🙂

    • Perception IS a huge factor for me, Scott. It’s always interested me. I really appreciate your insights here, and the way you formulate things. You always have a unique way of seeing, and expressing yourself. Thank you (and sorry for the late reply – I’ve been away).

  17. Like you, I have always been drawn to photographs captured through layers of various “barriers”, but I don’t think I have ever managed to create images like these. They are simply gorgeous. Very well done, Lynn.


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