Thoughts on Discovery


I have a new presentation called Discovery & The Creative Choice.  As is typical with a new program, I find I am continually making changes. I am constantly thinking about the concepts I want to present, reading what others have to say, studying, researching and then honing the presentation.  Recently, I found a quote about discovery from Albert Szent-Gyorgi who says, “Discovery consists of seeing what everyone has seen, and thinking what no one has thought”   The context of the quote was with regard to a discovery being made in the medical world.  In this case discovering a cure for cancer.  Many have seen the cells over and over again,  studied things out in their mind, but no cure. Until someone thinks what no one else has, a new discovery will not happen.

How does this apply to photography?  I have my ideas, but am interested in yours.  What does this quote mean to you?  Does it have the same impact on photography?  With all of the images that have been made or that we have seen, how do we discover new ones?  Is new to you enough or does it have to be new to the world?  With regard to my presentation, I’m speaking about discovery more in terms of finding worthy images in a situation that might be overwhelming or challenging.  That said, should we be finding images that have never been thought?

With regard to today’s image, it was pointed out by a participant in the Charleston workshop.  While I did not look at or make his exact picture, I did see what he was shooting and made my own composition.  To me he did and good job of discovering a scene that is not normally photographed at Magnolia Gardens.  At least, I’ve not seen this take before.


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  1. Dennis April 24, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    John, this is what worked for me. When i was working , as a pro–on deadline, I would do a walk around, with soak time, and shoot the easy, trite images first and get them out of my mind. Then, say to myself “OK-now let’s get serious” and by now be very perceptive and tuned in to really make my best images. It may not work for some but it was a method that made me search deeper and “discover” the really rewarding imagery.

    • john8276 April 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

      Great feedback Dennis, thank you.

  2. marty golin April 24, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    The physiology of sight ultimately is interpretation by the brain. The same photons of a scene can enter many brains, but the unique algorithms of individuals’ brains will result in different conclusions. However, the hard-wiring involved, common to our species, heavily biases the probable range of conclusions.

    Generally speaking, most people have certain expectations of what a scene is, or is not. Especially for non-photographers, if there is no expectation that a scene is pretty/interesting/graphic (pick your adjective), rarely will that individual see even the possibility of a worthwhile photograph. Conversely if viewing an iconic sight, most will simply point their cameras at the scene thinking they captured the “pretty” scene.

    If one scans the passing scenery expecting every moment to be a possible masterpiece, one is bound for much disappointment. However the advantage in viewing the world this way is that the percentage of an “average” scene being seen for its full photographic potential increases dramatically. In the photo shown, does one just see a bush with “pretty flowers,” or a series of rounded shapes in the flower-groupings being repeated by the curves of the branches behind them?

    Another wrinkle in this could be explained just by being “mindful” or observant of details that generally don’t get much attention in the brain-interpretation process. Simply slowing down to look promotes this & macro images are often the result.

    However the kernel of the matter (thinking what no one has thought) in my humble opinion comes down to imagination. How some individuals can create a unique view (or solution in a medical discovery context) somehow relates to how those individuals can modify their brain-interpretation of sight &/or are simply born with a very worthwhile brain glitch. I believe that most everybody who chooses to can, with practice, make themselves much more sensitive the graphic possibilities they see every day.

    For what it’s worth, the quote that grabbed me & started me down this path is “Seeing what is hiding in plain sight.”

  3. john8276 April 24, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    As usual Marty I throughly enjoy your comments. These are especially good. Thanks for helping me to see what is hiding in plain sight. 🙂

  4. Milbren Thomas April 24, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    I think, discovery or creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.
    Marcel Proust said, the only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

    • john8276 April 24, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

      Another good quote Mil. Thanks for chiming in.

  5. Nicki McManus April 24, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    Such a profound quote- to me it ties directly in with letting the image come to us. We have to let our passion drive us, not the pressure to create something. The same scene presents itself to each of us in an infinite number of ways. Our job is to let our passion, our eye, be our guide in creating what we have seen.

  6. Bruce Sorrell April 25, 2013 at 12:03 am #

    Good question, John!

    I think T.S. Eliot had a great observation on this issue. He wrote:

    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time. ”

    That knowing “the place for the first time” speaks to your earlier discussions about letting go of what we expected to see and instead seeing what is actually before us. Sort of a being in the moment thing. 🙂


    • john8276 April 25, 2013 at 2:12 am #

      Always appreciate your thoughtful comments and quotes Bruce. Thank you.

  7. Arthur Ransome April 28, 2013 at 1:55 am #

    To me, the act of discovery is connecting the journey from vision to emotion. We can all stare at the same scene or subject for hours on end, but its how we emotionally attach ourselves to the scene that sets us all apart. But the art of discovery is recreating the vision AND the emotion in our final images… In other words, discovery can be viewed on two levels – there is the logical connection of things (the act) and then there is the interpretation and recreation of those connections (the art).

    • john8276 April 28, 2013 at 2:01 am #

      Well put Arthur. I tend to agree, the discovery for many of my images comes in the processing thereof. Very much appreciate your taking time to further the conversation.

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