Oxford School of Photography

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Daily Archives: October 8, 2011

Learning to See by Tom Dinning

I found this on the excellent Tom Dinning blog

“On any Sunday I would find myself at my father’s side, standing before a masterpiece in some gallery. There was a ritual to follow. Silence at first. I watched him from knee height, absorbed in his fascination for the image in the frame. A Constable, Manet or Titian, it mattered not. The stance was the same. Hands by his side, head tilted slightly upwards, a barely distinguishable smile that I had learnt to recognise and only a son could see. A tall. proud man, well dressed, creased and cuffed trousers, shiny brown shoes, a soft open necked shirt, hair well groomed and glimmering in the dimmed light of the gallery.

After the silence came the questions.
What do you see?
I would explain. Trees, people, a woman and a child, a man lighting a fire, leaves on the ground.
Tell me what they are doing.
Resting. Preparing lunch.
Then a bit more silence.
Now I want you to be the artist.
I can’t paint.
You can see. See what time of day it is. See how close the woman is and how far away the man is. See the space between the trees, the colour of the leaves on the ground, the clothes they wear, the look on the faces. Here. Hold up your hand. Point to the child. Paint the eyes. I did as he suggested. Carefully I outlined the eye, then the other. I could see the sparkle. It blinked at me. There was always so much more to see.
Now smell the smoke from the fire. It’s gum smoke and it bites at the back of your throat and makes your eyes water. Smell the dust from the ground and the mould from the leaves. Smell the richness of the air with the odours of the Bush.
Can you feel the leaves under your feet? The heat of the morning falling to the ground. No breeze. The weight of the child on the mother’s lap. It’s you. Now feel the weight of life on the father’s shoulders. I never understood that bit for a long time.
What’s for breakfast? Can you taste it? Some milk, perhaps, for the baby. Porridge on the fire, honey from a hive. Tea.
WeetBix and cold milk.
He laughed quietly and nudged me affectionately.
Yes. WeetBix.
Now listen. Carefully. A whip bird calling. Something moves in the trees. The clatter of sticks as the man builds the fire, crackling into life. Can you hear their heart beat. I could hear mine.
Silence. I could hear my father breathing. Other patrons pass by but don’t stop. A woman stares at us as if we are lost. We are, in a wilderness of wonder.
Its like a window, Dad.
Its the artists window. He wants you to see what he sees. Every time you look through his window you will see something new, a little more of the artist and what his world looks like to him. That’s a very special thing he does for you.
I wish I could paint.

Use your camera instead. Show people your world through your window. I can hear him say it now.
Will they see what I see?
You’ll have to show them how.”