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Stop-Action Living & How to Pay Attention

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Jean Laughton’s Mythic West Borders Her Real West

Put a frame around the scene before you and the scene changes. The frame creates distance from the action, which is both useful and off-putting.

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Useful in that the frame helps you stop and see what is going on. Moving parts fall (momentarily) silent and you are released to think critically about the action. Note that critical thought need not be negative or a complaint or a sardonic aside. Critical thinking can result in even more whole-hearted agreement with the action. Critical thinking can also lead to backing away from the action.

Off-putting in that the frame truncates the scene and isolates it from everything else. Off-putting because the people in the scene see the camera and note you’ve switched from action to observer, which most of us find discomfiting. Pick up a camera or sketch pad and you’ve suddenly marked yourself as something other than what is happening right here and now. Pick up a camera and watch people freeze or back away.

Edmund Husserl (that 19th century mathematician/philosopher/phenomenologist) talked about leaving the “natural attitude” and bracketing his experience to come to fully understand/appreciate the experience. Actually, Husserl advised breaking with the natural attitude and bracketing experience to get on with his phenomenological work. Henri Cartier-Bresson always used a 50mm lens to capture the surrounding action, so his audience could see the central action in context and form stronger conclusions. Damon Young, in his Distraction, cites Henri Matisse in explaining how art became his way of looking at the world:

“I am unable to distinguish,” he wrote in 1908, “between the feeling I have for life, and my way of expressing it.”

Any way you cut it, paying attention and making your experience available to others are somehow linked. In Jean Laughton’s work, she takes her camera in the saddle and documents life as working cowgirl. The images she creates are mythic and telling and honest.

Walk through a few of Jean Laughton’s images and you’ll be glad she is paying attention. Laughton seems to have found a way to live in the scenes even as she brackets them. Her frames seem to not take her away from the action. The result is both memorable and accessible.

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Image credit: Jean Laughton via Lenscratch

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Written by kirkistan

September 18, 2013 at 10:03 am

One Response

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  1. […] written about Mr. Young’s book before, like here and here. But now that I’ve gone through it a second time, made annotations, outlined his argument, […]


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