Loosely based on "About Looking" by John Berger en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ber…
If you look them up in any dictionary of modern occidental language you'll find out that the two verbs 'to see' and 'to look' mean two different cognitive actions, complementary but somehow opposite. The definition in the dictionary shows it clearly: 'to perceive with the eyes' (to see) opposed to 'to direct one's eyes in a given direction or on a given object' (to look) which still implies employing one's sight.
There are many factors contributing to the distinction:
- First of all is the 'intention'. To look presumes a will, an intention, that seeing doesn't necessarily entail.
- The 'orientation'. The eyesight can be general and unfocused, while the gaze is focused on something, even when we stare into emptiness.
- The 'duration'. 'To see' doesn't express the concept of long or short duration typical instead of 'to look'.
- The 'quality'. Looking has a more articulate semantic structure than the simple seeing, richer of meaning connotations. A look can be of love or passion. A look can be of anger or frowning disapproval. A look can be respectful, of appreciation. Can be of suspicion, caution, arrogance, pride, disdain, etc. According to the adverb of manner, the orientation, duration, intensity, intention of a look can considerably change. While seeing can be purely sensorial - perceiving with the eyes - looking instead implies a cognitive, intellectual activity.
Seeing is passive, looking is active.
Looking is active because the subject gives to it quality, meaning, will, intention. It is not a simple automatic perceptual act, but it is an intellectual act. An act that implies intention, orientation, duration, intensity and quality, a synthesis of sight and mind, where our memory, culture, history mix with the visual perceptions giving new meanings to them.
Should you wonder why this grammar lesson...well, there are two reasons for it:
Pointing the camera toward a random or a vaguely interesting scene is not enough to obtain a good photo. You will obtain a random or a vaguely interesting photo. Strive for more. Look and think.
"Photography is a great adventure in thinking and looking, a wonderful magic toy that miraculously manages to combine our adult awareness with the fairy-tale world of childhood, a never-ending journey through great and small, through variations of the realm of illusions and appearances, a labyrinthine and specular place of multitudes and simulation" (Luigi Ghirri).
Street photography is very often about being able to see what the others miss or bypass.
" To me the 'everyday ordinary' is the look that is unable to discern, the attitude that accepts only what is already accomplished, what is already codified as truth. And kitsch is not a represented object, but the act that uncritically banishes an object in the ghetto of the
not dignified things" (Luigi Ghirri).
The same applies to when you look at a street photo taken by somebody else. Look at it with curiosity and patience, be open and active, try to understand why a photo was taken, what caught the eye of the photographer, what the photo shows you, tells you. And if you like it, try to understand why. Try to steal its secret.