Guest article for Luminous Landscape – Looking but not Seeing

 Looking but not seeing

If you’re reading this, it is highly likely that your photographic journey of a thousand miles has already begun. Let me guess, we will all be self taught to some extent. Sponging up information from books, tapping into the huge repository of knowledge here on LuLa, checking out the work of other artists we admire and gaining experience through good old fashioned trial and error.


Fall Flow


Some will have supplemented this with formal study and certification, others will have taken workshops in everything from profiling and printing to street photography. We now own some fine camera equipment and along the way we probably switched brand loyalties once or twice. Maybe even more :)

If we pause and look back at our work over, say, the last few years, we can see patterns emerging. There’s a routine to what, when, how and where we shoot. Many will also have experimented successfully with personal projects and self publishing. So that’s it. We’ve arrived at the destination! We can see, shoot and share and overall the results are pretty good.


Forest Tryptych


Now what?

Perhaps it’s time to take up painting or write that novel? If you do, fine, but if you feel that your photographic adventure has only just begun then this is for you. Maybe you need to turn creative stumbling blocks into stepping stones? Or you just know intuitively that you have more to offer but aren’t certain how to do it?

That’s what this article is about. Taking the Next Step. For shooting and for sharing there are a host of options on the web, particularly right here on LuLa. Travel workshops to exciting destinations, videos on workflow and software tutorials.


Temples Within


But what about seeing? The Art of Noticing. Taking the next step here is harder because we’re in more rareified territory. I’ve been lucky enough to take a step involving artistic collaboration which has inspired me and I want to share the idea with you here. It’s unusual, you may get jolted out of your comfort zone but the rewards are huge. Try it, who knows? It may work for you too.


The Spirit of Collaboration



Collaboration is something we take for granted. As humans we have a basic need to collaborate. We do it every day with partners, friends and colleagues. It is commonplace in the arts (theatre, music, dance) but strangely rare in photography. Occasionally we may collaborate with a book editor or gallery curator but we are not accustomed to sharing our creative photographic decisions. This is a shame because true collaboration involves both receiving and giving and I believe we underestimate the contribution we can to make to each other’s work. Thankfully that is all about to change.

More recently, Collaboration has become a buzzword in social media as technology gives us the tools to collaborate artistically. Think Adobe Creative Cloud, Asana, G+, Dropbox, Instagram, …etc. Now it is coming of age in photography.


London Eye


Eileen McCarney Muldoon is a fine art/travel photographer and educator based in Rhode Island, USA. Since meeting in Tibet two years ago, Eileen and I have collaborated on a variety of projects. We’ve explored multiple exposures, visual rhymes, incorporating text and working in film and digital. Along the way we made a simple but startling discovery; collaboration produces dramatic results.

I discovered that I had settled into a visual comfort zone. I knew when, where, how and why I was going to shoot. I tended to notice the same things over and over again. Looking at my work over a sustained period I found that many of the images looked similar.

I was travelling the world but standing still. Looking but not seeing.


Travelling Standing Still


Let’s take a deceptively simple example of Collaboration, Visual Rhymes.

This is a project we created to develop how we both think about photographs. The concept is simple. Choose an image, not just one you like but one with meaning, something which resonates with you. Without explanation pass it to your partner. Their task is to think hard about the image, what they ‘see’ you are trying to say and how they feel about it. Then they shoot a second image which rhymes or fits with it. This is the start of a visual conversation which continues with images being exchanged.


Visual Rhymes


This often raises the question, so how should I evaluate an image, what am I meant to rhyme with? And of course the answer is that you’re not ‘meant’ to rhyme with anything. You might start with the graphics or the colours and move on to the content or energy in the image, or jump right to the metaphor and use that as a brief for your own follow up shot.

What happens is that we cease taking and start making images. We establish a new habit of thinking first, then feeling, shooting and sharing. The project develops it’s own story line. The images don’t need to be linked in any formal narrative, they can meander with a creative sense of play. Maybe repeat patterns emerge, maybe they don’t. The point is to take your creative muscles to the gym for a work out.


Time Plays Tricks


Another good example is ‘Visualising Poetry’. This introduces text and therefore uses both the left and the right brain. Working in pairs, each participant chooses a poem for their partner to visualise. The process of finding a hook on which to hang a photograph forces us to study the meaning in a way quite different from reading a poem in a book. This stretches our imagination, helps us think in terms of metaphors and pushes us to explore new directions.


Two minds view as One


Creative collaboration offers a uniquely different approach. By working on shared projects I’ve found alternative paths that I would not have taken on my own. Eileen and I were challenged to rely on one another. To let go, trust, share the risk and share the inspiration. It became a journey of discovery rather than following a map.

To be clear, I’m not dismissing our role as individual artists. Collaboration is not a replacment for the way we work now but it adds an extra dimension. Working with someone else doesn’t limit your creativity. Rather their thinking is a catalyst, propelling you both to explore new territories.




And the benefits aren’t just temporary. They transfer back into your solo work too. The inspiration generated by collaboration will lead you to pictures that will astonish you…and your colleagues. Talk with friends in your photo and art communities. Find a subject of mutual interest and start a collaborative project. I’m sure you’ll find Looking and Seeing differently, infinitely rewarding.

Olaf Willoughby


Eileen and I feel we have both grown artistically through collaboration and if it worked so well for us; why shouldn’t it work for others? So we have developed a range of tools and techniques to guide you through the collaborative process. You can learn more by checking out ‘Visual Conversations’, a workshop we are co-teaching at Maine Media College, starting June 21st 2015. We are also running a workshop in Brooklyn in Sep 2015.

Contact Eileen at or me at: or

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