Seeing versus Looking

Angela Norrington gave us a very interesting tutorial on the subject of seeing and looking. She utilised a lot of quotes from other authors and clips from films which I am working my way through following up.

The basic premise of the talk was ‘it’s not what you look at – it’s what you actually see that is important’. It is a skill that needs exercised, an active attempt at understanding and can be equated to listening rather than just hearing.

She quoted from Maria Gainza Optic Nerve (Gainza, 2019) about Stendhal Syndrome. I have now read the entire book and found it fascinating, well worth reading with access to the internet at hand to look up the various artists she talks about.

Angela suggested having a regular place or subject you returned to, as you will see something different each time as gradually get a deeper appreciation of it. She also reminded us that looking quickly at everything available means you never truly see anything.  This is something I have found a potential problem in lockdown. There are so many talks/lectures/zooms/museum showings available to look at that I have become overwhelmed and cannot really remember the important parts of anything, or often, even to watch what I wanted to. (Remember 30 second reports- on what you have seen). I need to add Letters from Tove (Jannson, 2019) to my reading list!

Responding to things (images, art, pictures, places) with emotion is critical – what is it about something you have seen that stirs the emotion  – if you can replicate that you have a picture that is ‘peculiar to you’ – from David Suchet.

We also discussed the art of slow photography and slow looking – worth investigating further, and the book Photographs Not Taken (Steacy, 2012) where photographers talk about the images that they missed, the lost shot, where something else got in the way. I have started reading this and it is fascinating- makes you think about what an image is.

The whole talk is available at:


Gainza, M. (2019) Optic Nerve. London: Harvil Secker.

Jannson, T. (2019) Letters from Tove. Translated by Death, S. United Kingdom: Sort of Books.

Steacy, W. (ed.) (2012) Photographs not taken: a collection of photographers’ essays. Hillsborough, US: Daylight Community Arts Foundation.

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