The photographer is fortunate. Most of us walk about in a waking dream, reflecting personally on each incoming impression, oblivious of our surroundings. Sheila Hocken noticed this when her sight was restored after having been virtually blind from childhood, saying "What is the matter with you all? You don't seem to notice how beautiful everything is!"
The photographer needs an awakened eye before needing a camera, and an awakened eye, sensitive to its surroundings, is rewarded by the perception of significance and beauty on every side, a world that most other people seem to ignore. The photographer will be awakened by the impressions that occasionally awaken all of us - nature, landscape, human character and expression, but also by arrangement, pattern, scale, and, above all, the play of light and shade.
Awareness as animals have it probably became conscious awareness in an adaptive response to emergency, but this reflective consciousness brought with it the sense of beauty, and it is the sense of beauty that serves most to wake us to clear consciousness, beauty first of all in nature and the world. Years ago Christopher Isherwood wrote his book "I am a Camera" and this in a way suggests the concept of the human being as sublime observer of beauty in the universe.
Art and nature seem separate routes to beauty, but one might argue that art is part of nature, for what is not? The beauty of nature is familiar to all, but there are those who are blind to the arts. The traditional role of art has evoked for many the same quality as does the beauty of nature, a sense of wonder that is beyond explanation, and this is the opportunity also for photography. There are many rewards waiting for the visually alert, and they go far beyond visual pleasure in nature, suggesting that this world we can see is only an aspect of the whole, and that there is something to which we need to awaken.
This promotes a realisation of the importance of consciousness, which is the first essential of our life, and, perhaps, all of it. We are the first creatures to be conscious of our existence, and even scientists postulate that the universe was predisposed to develop consciousness, and this is what we are. Here, we are the consciousness of the universe. Clear consciousness is our challenge and our opportunity, and it is often the sense of beauty that serves to wake us to clear consciousness, to see,to know and to be.
Here beauty in nature and in the art of architecture are examined through photography as ways to broader consciousness, and to such understanding as lies there.
The visual art of photography is not a poor relation to other more manual arts, but has quite separate qualities, which the photographer may, or perhaps, should, use to evoke the character of the subject and to communicate a personal appreciation of it. The principal quality of photography (which will no doubt be transferred fully to digital technology quite soon) is the control of contrast, the relationship between the darkest visible shades and the lightest, and the distribution in between. In the world the brightness and contrast range is enormously high, and this has been limited by photography, or rather by film, but the limitation is (here as always) the opportunity, for by selecting how the gradation is rendered, the quality, character, and emphasis of the image can be controlled. The photographer can choose whether fine distinctions are given in the light tones, the dark tones, or in the medium range, and vary this across the picture.
When we see, we do not grasp the whole visible display in one instant. We can see detail only in the centre of our vision, so we build up an understanding of the scene by painting it with our eyes, and refreshing it where our interest is aroused. From this we contrive an external representation of internal activity. Seeing takes place in the brain, but we project it back outside into the world. The experience of seeing a photograph is quite different. We still take time to see it, but we are seeing an frozen instant, and we can study in detail what would have vanished in a real scene - the frozen drops of a waterfall, for example - and we can examine adjacent light and dark tones that would have been uncomfortable for the eye in the bright illumination range of the outside world.
Photographs are not a record, they are an interpretation, although any photographer is free to decline the latitude offered by photography. It is light that offers the greatest opportunities. The best photographs interpreting natural beauty are made of light.