Sonder And The Art Of Photography

Quick Read: Perspectives can be valuable.  A Kickstarter campaign shows us how to create value out of them while a multi million dollar campaign from a global brand shows us what it can learn from the former.

Sonder is a fascinating word.

It is the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you. (source)

At a fundamental level, Sonder for me is a shift in perspective that makes me cognizant and appreciative of the tens of thounsands of stories unravelling around me, in all their characteristic diversity and profundity.

It’s sonder that makes Street Photography fine art. It’s sonder that makes Vernacular Photography artistic to our eyes.

In fact, it’s sonder that can even help us put a price to perspectives.

Heard of Tribe Photo? James Kell is a photographer and sailor. In his words..

Recently during my work in Haiti I had an opportunity to put my subjects on the other side of the lens – to give them the chance to experience the pleasure of photographing people.  I found the perspectives of the locals – when they were making the photographs – was completely, strikingly unique. This was the kernel of the idea that is now Tribe Photo.

Read more about the business model of Tribe Photo on its kickstarter page.

But the essential idea that underlies Tribe Photo is insightful and impactful in many ways than one. It gets to the heart of the “art in photography” by transcending the narrative of the camera gear. It puts a value to perespectives as seen through the photographer’s eyes and thereby puts the photographer first, celebrates the art of photography and gives back to the community.

Tribe Photo

I Am Generation Image

Now, contrast that to the campaign that Nikon is introducing this week timed for the Christmas shopping season. This campaign with an estimated budget of $ 5 – $7 million themed “I am Generation Image“, is essentially a plea to the generation Y – the millenials –  to shoot more with a DSLR than with their phones. (source)

So what is this campaign all about? Check this video out.

This attempt at speaking to the millennials by asking them “Are Your photos good enough?” loses out on two counts:

  1. In putting people first: in fact it challenges them in a way that might actually provoke them to go out of their way to shoot outstanding photos with their phone camera
  2. In celebrating the art of photography: While the campaign does have at it’s core this page being promoted through this video audaciously titled “See Through The Eyes Of This Generation”, the content on the page tries hard to dumb it down for their TG. Sample this: “Zoom out as wide as you can, and you can even do selfies on a DSLR”

Really? All this from the brand whose theme has been to be proudly “At The Heart Of The Image”?

(Featured Image: IamGenerationImage.Com)

The Most Iconic Photograph Ever – On Perspectives

Lunch atop a skyscraper is believed to be one of the most iconic photographs of all time.

The photograph shows 11 men having their lunch, seated on a crossbeam with their feet dangling some hundreds of feet above the New York City streets. Many of us might possibly remember seeing this picture over the years and sometimes even wondering if this was just a work of some smart ass CG. Else, what on earth could they possibly be doing there? 

Power of Perspective as an Evocative Device

When I think about it, this iconic shot – that was apparently taken by an unknown photographer on September 20th 1932 from the 69th floor of the RCA Building during the last months of its construction – captures our imagination precisely because it presents a unique perspective of a moment frozen in time and space to evoke a multitude of reflections (and questions) from us: historical, metaphorical and  physical. It is these very questions that an upcoming documentary Men at Lunch seeks to answer. See this trailer:

The historical significance aside, what stands out to me here is the power of ‘perspective’ to make us react to, reflect upon and realize the multiple facets of a story.In other words, the power of perspective as a compelling story telling device. 

Power of Perspective as a Provocative Device

It is known that our preferences are mostly shaped by our perceptions. Hence when we are presented with something in such a way that our perspective shifts, it challenges us, provokes us and sometimes even immerses us in new ways.

Willow – a Belgian band has recently released a music video for their song ‘Sweater’. It is a tour-de-force in 3-D projection mapping that creates an outstanding optical illusion. Play the music video below and see your perceptions getting provoked as your perspective rapidly shifts (and possibly gets restored):

Obviously the guy just ‘strolls’ on a treadmill in a room while the projections on the walls play with our notion of perspective every passing second. That is for me, the impact that gets created when our perspective shifts – even for a moment –  despite our best struggles to restore it.

Power Of Perspective as a Narrative Device 

Did you see the website for 2012 Air Jordan Collection from Nike? Click on the pic below to land on the site:

(No. Seriously.  Browse through this site before reading any further)

How did you like it? Were you intrigued to scroll down till the end of the page? This is called as Parallax Scrolling Effect.  Essentially it  uses multiple backgrounds which seem to move at different speeds to create a sensation of depth and an interesting browsing experience that challenges your perspective of a web page.

No wonder then, Parallax Scrolling can be a powerful device that can in itself become the narrative of a page. (See some brilliant examples from the WWW that employ this UI design technique.)

And lastly and more importantly the Power of ‘Perspective Restored’ 

Recently Candy Chang has envisaged an experiment called “Before I Die” in New Orleans. What followed was an extremely thought provoking story about how she has taken up a neglected wall and transformed that into a constructive space where one can restore perspective. See her soul stirring TED talk here:

‘Before I Die’  has been recognized as one of the most creative and transformative community projects ever and has soon begun to expand to a number of cities around the world.

In Summary: 

While our formative years shape up our perspectives, these certainly need to get challenged and shifted as we grow up, in order for us to learn and unlearn. But may be sometimes when we get too caught up in our day to day, perhaps we just need to take a step back and seek strength in this power of our perspective, restored.

What is your perspective?