I tuned in to a virtual photography symposium last month and had the pleasure of hearing photographer Karen Hutton give a talk on finding your voice and the power of awe. I wasn’t familiar with the studies that have been done on the emotion of awe, but as I’ve done a bit more research on the topic, I’ve gotten more and more excited about the positive effects that an “awe experience” has on not only our creativity, but also our physical and mental well-being. And so, with all of the loss and lockdowns of the ongoing pandemic, I thought that purposefully looking for things that elicit awe might do us all a world of good right now.
What is awe? According to Dacher Keltner, awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world. And while you might think that this requires travel to new and exciting places, the truth is that the science of awe suggests that “opportunities for awe surround us [every day] and their benefits are profound.” Something can be very small, but the vast knowledge needed to understand it can still elicit awe. Things like seeing buds on trees in the spring or colorful leaves gently letting go of their branches in autumn. Things like the night sky or a butterfly crossing your path. Things like hearing a child’s laughter or the final crescendo of an orchestral piece. Even something as simple as light refracting through of a glass of water left on the kitchen table.
The opportunities to experience awe in our daily lives abound if we simply choose to look for them. And that is your challenge this week: look for, notice and photograph something that elicits awe in you this week. I encourage you not to rush to post your photo early – or if you do, at least continue to look for and experience awe each day. Not only does it improve our mental-emotional state, but initial studies indicate that regular experiences of awe benefit our immune system as well.
If you are in lockdown and feel like you’ve seen everything there is to see around your home, I encourage you to spend time gazing out your windows or even better walking around your yard to find something that you haven’t noticed before. For example, tiny details of plants or insects always surprise and delight me. I had just finished watering the garden a number of years ago and noticed some moss growing below the plants. I ran and got my macro lens and discovered what appeared to be a fairy forest when I let my imagination take off. This patch of moss was no more than ½” high and about 3” in diameter. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if the sun hadn’t glinted off a drop of water.
If you live in a more urban setting, there are still plenty of opportunities to experience awe. Looking up at tall buildings or down at a city scape from a high vantage point, public displays of art and architecture, historic monuments, etc. Feel free to look for abstract images or ask yourself “what else could it be?” if you’re having trouble experiencing awe through a more realistic or documentary perspective.
If you aren’t sure where to start this week, Karen Hutton has a short (13 minute) podcast on Awe & The Arc of Creation. Also, the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley shares some practices that are designed to help you experience awe: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/#filters=awe
This week’s challenge summary:
- Look for, notice and photograph something that elicits awe in you this week.
- For extra credit, try to photograph your subject in such a way as to elicit awe in the viewers of your image.
- Post your photo during the week of Sunday, Sept 19 and Saturday, Sept 25.
The friendly community guidelines are pretty simple:
- Take a new photo for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
- Post your photo each week to our active communities on Facebook or Flickr (or both). Tag the photo: #2021photochallenge #photochallenge #tempusaura
- Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2021 Trevor Carpenter Photo Challenge is fun and easy.