Discover more from The Art of Noticing
Map the Picture
TAoN No. 141. Seeing more — and empathizing better. Plus: the verbal photograph. Also, an audio series on Waking Up. And more.
“‘Mother’s Day, May 9, 1976,’ mapped by George Mesro Coles-El; from The San Quentin Project,” via The New York Review of Books.
We look at pictures, photographs, all the time.
Or maybe, in an image-soaked culture, we don’t really look at them at all. We glance; we move on. But today I’m pleased to share some work inspired by artist and educator Nigel Poor that might help us all to see images in a deeper way.
Poor is probably best known for co-creating the outstanding, Pulitzer-nominated podcast Ear Hustle, “the first podcast created and produced in prison.” (Then-San Quentin-inmates Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams were co-founders.)
Before Ear Hustle, Poor had first come to San Quentin as a volunteer teacher, running a course on the history of photography. I only learned about this recently, thanks to a New York Review essay (looks paywalled, unfortunately) that focuses partly on her book The San Quentin Project (Bookshop.org; Amazon). That quite remarkable book describes a few of her assignments/prompts, which I found really inspiring and useful. Here’s one:
The verbal photograph: remember an important moment in your life and write about it “as if [you] were describing a photographic image.“
As much as I like that idea, the big assignment that really caused the book to exist (and me to write about it today) is what Poor calls “mapping” a photograph. She lays out some suggestions and parameters for close looking (paying attention to scale, point of view, body language, etc.). But the essential point is to:
Use a pen or pencil to mark on and annotate the image, zeroing in on details and write “a short description of why that aspect is significant to you.”
Via Nigel Poor’s site.
In some cases, there was another step — a kind of reversal of the verbal photograph idea:
“Now that you have analyzed the photograph, use your discoveries to write a narrative, completely imaginary, about the photograph.”
At first, her students did this with images she provided by well-known photographers. Later, she gained access to a cache of images made at the prison itself, over prior decades. Those “mapped” results are the book’s main event, and they’re riveting.
Via Nigel Poor’s site.
The book also includes several essays and other text, including an interview by Poor with one of her memorable students, Ruben Ramiriz, who tells her that the practice of mapping photographs “sort of schooled me in my empathy.”
I want to end on that — the connection between attention and empathy, and how Poor’s “mapping” prompt encourages a deeper form of perception. As Ramiriz continues:
“It nurtured my empathy. I was able to practice it. I mean, I understood what empathy was, but I wanted to know what it felt like. So I practiced it on those photographs, by looking at what that person was going through and thinking about how he must have felt.”
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IN OTHER NEWS
As some of you know, I have a series of audio pieces, very much in line with The Art of Noticing book and this newsletter, now beginning to appear on the app Waking Up. (Welcome to those of you who found your way to the newsletter as a result!) I had a great time putting the series together, and the Waking Up folks were terrific. If you’re not familiar with Waking Up, more here — and if you want to give the app a whirl, here’s a link for TAoN readers to take a 30-day free trial. (Art above by Ryan Miller.)
Closely related to today’s main item: BoingBoing links to a “GeoGuesser” video revealing how he studies images to determine where they were made. His observational skills are exceptional. I suspect he’d be a great image-mapper!
“I ended up walking about 6,000 miles.”
Here’s a YouTube channel where you can watch DJs spin vinyl sets. Or just listen while you work.
OKAY THAT’S IT!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults directed at me, not at anyone else, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: email@example.com. Or use the comments.
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And thanks for reading …
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All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032. Send me mail!
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