Bird Brain

gingerbread cranberry scones recipe jennifer hulley food blog food photographer hamilton

She's running through the wildness, her vision obscured from the blindfold tied around her face, clutching the hands of a young boy and girl.Panting, listening, running fumbling through the environment unsure of her surroundings but steadfast in her mission – to save herself, her children, her future.

For this post-apocalyptic tale the act of shutting off visual input is the only route to self-preservation. The act of not seeing feels so foreign to us that those scenes shot through the blur of fabric, letting only light and shadows in effectively builds a sense of panic and fear. 

Yet nobody looks anymore. Crossing the street, while driving, waiting in the checkout line, ordering your daily coffee. Eye contact has all but disappeared. Where are we looking? Yes, to our phones and devices but that argument may be too simple. 


I can't help but notice that quite often we are looking down at the ground as we move about. What's down there? Our feet? The pavement? If we aren't scrolling or replying, or double tapping or liking then what the heck else are we doing gazing down there? Are we purposefully making ourselves invisible? To move through the day without being seen, so we don't have to connect?  

Maybe we have forgotten how to connect in real time and the avoidance is of a self-preserving manner. Don't look at me. Don't see me. Don’t greet me or ask me a question. Don’t ask me to engage with you in the here and now, for the pressure of performing and the expectation of responding in perfection is too much. What if my response doesn't match my brand? My feed? My online persona? What if I haven't slept in a week and I spent a good 20 minutes having a shower cry this morning, with looking at me will you be able to tell?  

 Lack of eye contact can be  visible manifestation of some social disorders, anxiety and autism even. The inability lack of desire to connect with another person on a vulnerable level was once salient enough to warrant ticking a box in the DSM-V. What was once considered troubling and "abnormal" is becoming the status quo. Will we come one day to diagnose disorders on the basis of how frequently and consistently one seeks direct eye contact with another? 

It is not even limited to other people to which we avoid looking at but even more so it is our surroundings. We go through the day on auto pilot not noticing. Not seeing the small things: the way a line of light bounces across the dining table during the last hours of the day. The expansive wall of grey brick who's pattern is broken by the emergence of a tiny yellow flower. How the lines on the floor lead in perfect parallel to the series of lines formed by the trees in the horizon.  


My photography is shared and received with positive feedback. Cries of "I could never see the world the way you do" flood the comment threads. Do I though? Or is it that I just make an effort to see?  

 Photography has trained me to look. To always be scanning and searching,  to find patterns that make me smile, and to  notice the breaks in those patterns that cause me to stop. I see and I snap. Yes,  I capture and collect the moments I find  beautiful or fascinating and yet I still avoid eye contact when ordering my latte

Although I remember to look, I can become lazy when it comes to "seeing,"  cozying up in a place of such deep disconnection that I need to escape to a foreign place to pry my eyes open again. It always works. I place myself in this new environment, thereby standing perched on the receiving end of an onslaught of sensory input so forceful that it karate kicks my creativity into a working state again and I return home able to see. My finger resumes pressing the trigger frantically and my camera roll swells.  

Even with my eyes training to notice and the continual stretching of my brain to remain engaged I have been debilitatingly frustrated with my food photography recently. My go to strategy for this frustration? Admit defeat and stop trying. Yup, lie down and play dead, stop creating. Eventually I became so sick of feeling defeated when scrolling past inspirational images  that I screamed to a friend my desire to swap my whining and jealousy for a drive to be better than them. Whatever motivates you eh? Competition. Success. A gold star. And so I'm now on a personal quest to open my eyes and consciously look at what I am photographing, specifically the light. I clicked and fell my way down into an internet rabbit hole and landed on an online purchase of a new e-book, "The Art Of Light" 

 At first glance I flipped through it and was let down, feeling it was "too basic" and that I "knew all of this already." Still I forced myself to engage with the process and work through these "beginner lessons." Well guess what? I'm only a few chapters in and have been hit with a problem that I haven't experienced in who knows how long, possibly never. I have too many images I like from one practice shoot.  


Are you here until you die?

What's the take away here? We are not Sandra Bullock. We are not "boy" or "girl" We do not have to move through the world blindfolded, in fear that the act of looking will propel us into a state of self harming psychosis. But what if the opposite was true? That the act of not looking might pull us down that same road? 

This article was born out of a cross process of working through writing exercises from "Crafting the personal essay" and photographic exercises from "The Art Of Light" by Two Loves Studio. Somehow it ended up resulting in scones, go figure.  Get the recipe by clicking the image below. PS bonus points if you picked up on the musical reference in this blog post. Your prize? My eternal adoration.


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