Exploring everyday photographic routines through the habit of noticing

Eve Forrest, ‘Exploring everyday photographic routines through the habit of noticing’, pp.193-208, in:

Gómez Cruz, E., Lehmuskallio, A. (Eds.), 2016. Digital photography and everyday life: empirical studies on material visual practices. Routledge, London; New York.


Looking around me, I could see little that I thought was worth photographing. However, one of the photographers beside me suddenly stopped still, then, crouched down. I observed them at work as they moved around: making micro adjustments to their feet, fingers, shoulders and head movements, getting their body in the best position to take the picture.


Having spoken with numerous photographers over the course of many years, the common theme in each conversation was transformative powers of carrying and using camera everyday, be that film, digital or on a mobile phone. They remarked on how they saw the world differently, markedly so from the others around them they did not habitually take photographs. They also noted that after prolonged use, even when they did not take a camera with them, they still saw potential photographs everywhere within their environment.

Using [Seamon’s] Lifeworld as the primary touchstone I will consider the core experiential qualities of photography practice and discover, phenomenologically speaking, how a photographer and their being-in-the-world is affected by the presence of the camera.


Practice theory facilitates an exploration into the various routine performances and communicative actions with the camera: particular dance set to the rhythm of everyday life.

Season particularly underlines the impact of habit, drawing attention to factors that structure these various interactions.


The metaphor of dance is particularly useful and thinking about how photographers can vary their everyday movements. When acting groups they waltz in-between one another, so as not to disrupt the image taking of others. Often, of course, they dance solo and, depending on the camera used, they do not just used their feet. They bring their eye close to the viewfinder or hold the screen at arm’s length, stretching muscles out or are pulling their elbows in tightly to their body. Even when they are ‘still’ and watching the world with the camera in hand, they continue to make micro adjustments with their weight, shifting from one foot to the other. Sometimes they even go en pointe, tiptoeing around their subject to gain a better perspective.

These actions, which can be viewed as part of a complex interlacing between body and camera, I been further advanced by new technologies and hardware. Where cameras used to be extensions of the hand and eye, they can now be integrated into the body through various wearable means, such as clips, mounts and harnesses on the chest (for example GoPro cameras and accessories and the Apple iWatch). Photography practices have, then, become both embodied and an embedded part of everyday life.


The camera, then, does not always have to be in hand to instigate noticing. Even when they are without one (although this is rare), photographers are frequently thinking and acting as if they have it with them. Instead of the photographers’ awareness ‘advancing and retreating like the actions of waves on shore’ [Seamon 1979, p.103] the effect of the camera on their everyday interactions and movement is more permanent.


Merleau-Ponty notes that ‘intentionality of perception depends crucially on the normativity of body schema… we have a feel for the kinds of balance and posture that afforded us a correct and proper review of the world’.

What does it mean to be ‘photographically aware’ of surroundings? It differs from photographer to photographer, depending on their preferred subject, but what is important for each of them is habitually and intentionally paying attention to the world around them.


Negative emotion does affect the bodily rhythms and processes of the photographer, though it is more difficult to articulate exactly why. One possible reason is that, once fully absorbed in the action of photographing, the mind and body are knotted.

Soon, full concentration is given over to photography and the individual becomes entwined in the world, their habitual movements flow, in turn creating more noticing opportunities, leading to further absorption, and so on.

[with negative feelings] Instead of flowing, the body’s rhythm stutters as concentration is lost and noticing becomes more difficult.


As part of their skill set, photographers become accustomed to looking, in order to find interesting things to photograph, which has subsequently formed into a more solid habit.

[Ref Bourdieu’s discussion of ‘habit’]


When I observed their photographers accessing their Flickr photo-stream and moving around the site, many used a similar terminology in previous descriptions of how they used the camera and wandered around the city. As they wandered through, looking from image to the image they told me, frequently, How they were ‘drawn to’ particular photographers and their subjects. They also quickly became absorbed in looking at the images, only making micro-movements with their eyes, and their index finger slightly twitching on the touch-pad to move the cursor.


Like wandering in the city, often, when the participants began to explore Flickr, there was no set destination are final place they wanted to get to, so the threads began to weave around one another as they moved across the pages, creating a complex virtual tapestry. This movement was punctuated by noticing, or being drawn to, particular images.

Although wandering online, to an extent, is on planned, ultimately these users are repeatedly exploring the same places (groups and certain features), revisiting the same sites on every visit.


[discussion of watching and waiting]


I asked, at the beginning of this chapter, what separates a photographer from the person who carries a camera.


However, one could ask the same of other, simply technologies. If one carries a pen, does that automatically make one writer? I wear training shoes every day, but does that make me a runner?

To be a photographer is not always necessarily to do with the quality of the images but, instead, the way that the photographers perform photography with their body, their commitment to movement, the habit of noticing and how, through this habit, they observe the world.

[…] the photographers who routinely walk around their everyday environment are noticing, but it is also tightly woven into, and directly informs, their habitual camera use. Noticing is a chaotic, complex contradiction, where everyday life has the potential to be somehow transformed through a balance of luck and skill, and it is a ‘synergy between understanding and intuition’ [St John, 2004].


The more you take, the more you look, and the more you look, the more you notice. To paraphrase McKenna, it is the felt presence of the camera that makes direct experience of the world heightened for the photographer.