Task 10 – Meet the mystery
Meet the mystery
Elisabeth was frustrated and didn’t find any subjects that she saw any potential in. I said, “How great!” Frustration can be a blessing. That’s when you know you are at the threshold of something new, and something that is within reach. You are no longer satisfied with how things are, so you are motivated to take a new step. This is a good position to be in. Finding out which pictures we don’t want to take is just as important as finding out which ones we do want to take.
Elisabeth found out that she should follow her intuition. And then she discovered this subject, a mystery in a picture. The picture is a question more than an answer. A hoodie is filled with sand and the dog seems as surprised as we are. We can study such a picture endlessly because the mystical question within it cannot be grasped. The low sun creates nice shadows that frame the sweatshirt. The colors in the sand are repeated in the dog. How would the picture have looked in the middle of the day, or in the rain?
Essaouira, Marocco, 2014. Photo: Elisabeth Arnet
I was on emergency medical duty somewhere in rural Norway. The taxi driver and I chatted as we went from house to house in the county. We had a list of people to visit so long that it could take several hours from the time a patient called until I showed up. A husband appeared at the door, excused himself and said that his wife was lying in the bathtub. She didn’t know when we were going to get there. I listened quickly to her lungs with my stethoscope, wrote out a treatement and disappeared out the door. The next patient was an acquaintance of theirs, a clairvoyant woman with neck pains. She got her medicine, but as I grabbed the door knob to leave, she stopped me. “Hey, Færø, was your previous patient sitting in a bathtub when you came?” “Uh, yeah…” “Ok, I just wanted to check that what I saw was correct. Have a good trip!”
Life is a bit duller when we only relate to what we see and understand. As Einstein said, imagination is more important than knowledge. It easily becomes a habit for us to wonder too little about the world we live in. Everything seems already explained and known in an age where we have learned to keep the darkness at a distance. Then it is easy to think that everything we see is all that there is. Before we had electricity, it was obvious that anything could happen in the dark, albeit only in the imagination, and that that could be just as interesting as reality in the light of day. Artificial light has made people’s lives easier but along the way we have lost some of the mystery.
Just this lack of mystery can often explain why a photo is perceived to be boring. It is too logical. We quickly understand what the picture contains and why it was taken, which is why we are also finished looking at it in a few seconds. On the other hand, we never quite get a hold of what is mysterious and cryptic. We try to grasp it again and again. And we never get bored of it.
Do you only believe in what can be explained? Twenty years as a doctor has taught me that the worst form of superstition is to only believe what science has proven. Have you experienced, or known someone who has, inexplicable things? Do you have a good imagination and sense of fantasy?
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The magic of reality
The mystery in the dark, in what we don’t see, know or can understand has a magnetic effect on us. Unresolved murder cases can captivate us for years, but if the killer is arrested quickly the attention on the case may not last more than a few days.
If you take a photo that contains mystery, then you have a great advantage. Mona Lisa’s enigmatic look is the main reason for all of us looking at this painting. Closed eyes can also increase the mysterious in a portrait, and if you photograph someone from behind, the viewer must use more of his or her imagination. This gives the picture an added quality beyond the composition and balance of it. It will be evocative, revealing invisible layers that exist only in your mind. A picture is only half-finished when it is exposed, it needs to be completed in the viewers brain.
Imagination is more important than reality. I have never met two people who experience reality in the same way. We all live in our own conception of reality, and we can express this in our pictures. The magic and mystery exists just as strongly in what is visible and in reality as in what is invisible and in imagination. When we freeze the reality by taking a picture, we often become aware of the magic that is easily lost in the flow of moments. For me, it works just like an X-ray picture that exposes what is normally hidden. The camera is a magical instrument that brings back the wonder of existence. Mystery is everywhere if we only look for it.
Take a picture that has the quality of question more than of an answer, one that contains mystery and gets the viewer to ponder about what is going on in it. A coffee cup, a light switch, even a stone can be transformed into something magical through our attention.
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BOOK SUGGESTION: The Artis’s Way by Julia Cameron