Passage of Time

There is much more going on in how we respond to the thousands of images we see each, and what is required are new approach to  visual literacy – training people to understand what they are seeing within the context of ideology, culture, and societal needs.

Visual literacy must promote critical thinking in term of how human perceptual processes have  the evolved over millions of years. We need to consider seeing as visual modalities which moderate and influence conditions of knowing.

Visual culture, by nature, is inextricably tied to psychological, biological, ideological, emotional, cultural, and ethical behaviors.

Empathic vision means seeing, thinking, feeling, and acting on what perceive. I think this more about training people to see than seeing itself.  What does the “Silence of Seeing” mean then. In the context of empathy I think there needs to be a silence in the process of making sense of what we see — time to understand more deeply the things that affect us — a time that  goes beyond seeing the beauty reduced to a frame’s worth of pixel.



Notions of Reality

Immigrants to the United States cross the Rio Grand near Laredo Texas, (1987).

The terms document and documentary derives from  Latin meaning teach. If there is an exemplary characteristic that defines documentary it would be simply show the world to itself.  Philosophically, photography was first associated with the “positivist” school of thought, a 19th movement which posited how in  observing the “natural human experience” we could gain understanding the nature of reality which distinguishes us as spiritual beings.  We have since accepted that this approach was incorrectly presented in the notion of objectivity.

Lewis Balitz observes, “There is something paradoxical in the way that documentary photographs interact with our notions of reality. To  function as documents at all they must first perusade us that they describe their subject accurately and objectively; in fact, their first task is to convince their audience that they are truly documents, that the photogrpher has fully excerised  his [her] power of observation and decription and has set  aside his [her] imaginings and prejudices”  (Dennis Grady, 1977).

Despite seeming objective, “a picture is worth a thousand words or  the “camera never lies,” photography, documentary or otherwise, is a very subjective. The photographer intentionally attempts point the lens toward things that matter to them – this is what is  perceived as reality. All photographs are documentary in some sense, but they are also works of fiction. The photograph is the result of what the photographer sees in their mind’s eye — a synthesis of visual codes or the fleeting   “perfect picture” moment  representing the idea that is America, the idea that is religion, the idea that  is war, or the idea that is nature.

While the  fine arts photographer is allowed the freedom to create meaning through artistic expression conceptually, the documentarian is constrained by the experience of observance of physical reality.

In doing documentary work, the photographer looks at life holistically – a narrative  from birth to death. As a storyteller, the photographer does not attempt to find answers in a single picture but a continuous flow of moments in life.

In the Blink of an Eye

As years, even decades pass, we must consider the consequences of emerging technologies on visual practice.  Today, the torrent of images we are exposed to on social media – Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, profoundly affects how we understand, know and interact with the world.   Schwarz notes, since 1826 people have made more than 3.6 trillion images.  The effect of the conversion from film to digital has dramatically affected the primary characteristics of photography – observation and expression.

The human eye and brain are the two most complex organs in the body. Over millions of years human consciousness as evolved. We learned to control and refine motor  skills,  our capacity to remember things increased, we invented symbols to communicate and language emerged, and we figured out how to use cave walls, parchment, and now computers to create external memory so that we could store and share our thought beyond what is in our head.


Could  being exposed to an trillions of  images create a sort of new evolutionary pressure on the brain?

We do know that our capacity to process  visual information is changing. Researchers  at MIT has discovered that the  human brain can process an entire image in about  13 milliseconds.  Does this mean that our capacity to understand the significance of each image is getting better. Probably not. Fiona Loughnane contends, “Despite our exposure to ever increasing amounts of photographic images, it could be argued that we notice them less and less. Where once photography was seen as representing modernity and speed, it is now often characterised by its slowness and stillness, more marked today as the moving image becomes increasingly accessible.”

Perhaps  what we are experiencing today is the brain adjusting to changes the visual environment – one that may very well represent another breakthrough in  the evolution of consciousness.  Ultimately, what this suggests is that human beings are in the process of developing a more complex perceptual system of selecting and perceiving.

Totally Eclipsed


The Benedictine Sisters of Mount Saint Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, Kansas hosted a total solar eclipse party on August 21, 2017, but the guest of honor nearly missed it. (Left) Coming out of totality the solar eclipse passes about St.Cecila’s, the oldest building on the monastery ground. (Right) Benedictine nun, Sr. Dorothy Wolters, OSB, catches a glimpse of the solar eclipse despite the frequent rain shower preceding the event. 

Things do not always go as planned when dealing with two things: babies and the weather.

After so much hype surrounding the upcoming  total solar eclipse last August, the event in this part of Kansas had the makings of a bust. The sisters at the monastery had been planning a party for about 300 guests for the better part of three weeks.   As the bell chimed for morning prayer, the anemic sky promised anything but the sun that day. By noon, some of the sisters along with a few volunteers hurriedly folded and unfolded dozens of lawn chairs as showers came and went.Meanwhile, across town at Benedictine College, officials were expecting several thousand people to fill the Larry Wilcox football stadium.

Punt, Pass, or Kick

Celestial events