Images and Ideas

by Jeb

Taking pictures is about observation. And yeah, the subject tells a story, no doubt about it. It hints at our biases, our interests, our predispositions. If I take a picture of a tree, you learn something about me before I even say a word. And when I tell you about that picture, the real learning begins.

This is generally the exact opposite of what we do as bloggers. Most of us write about something, and then go find a picture to fit our message. Makes sense, right? When the idea starts the process, this approach is exactly how it should be.

But more and more lately, I’ve been thinking visually first. Maybe that’s the wrong way to describe it. But I’ll see something - a tree, a sign, a crack in the sidewalk, whatever, and it gives birth to an idea or a poem or a story. Surely this has been influenced by Detlef and Henie, both of whom begin, almost always, with the image.

And the thing I love about this is that it’s an external force - this image we happen upon - that causes us to reflect on something that we otherwise might not have. And so a process of production is set in motion, and it changes us in some small way. But this introduction to something new isn’t just an opportunity for growth, it’s an alternative to something…it’s a new path entirely.

Had I not seen that tree and, consequently, taken it’s picture, written about it, and had the opportunity to interact with you as a result, I would be different than I am today. Maybe that’s true of a number of things, but somehow this seems unique, and important.

I like to think about the circumstances that brought me to see each image. About the decisions and thought processes that converged at that point, that moment, and which resulted in our meeting. And why those images? What is it about them that speaks to me, tells me stories? Why them and not countless others I encounter throughout the day?

This brings me back to that first paragraph - ‘the subject tells a story…it hints at our biases, our interests, our predispositions’. And so this lets you into my head a bit deeper (beware), gives you a longer glimpse into my world. And what comes out of it all is yet another layer. The way I turn that image around in my head, ponder it, color and adorn it. The way it speaks to me. And the way I communicate its meaning, my meaning, our meaning, to you. It’s more than just a process of discovery and the telling of a story. It’s like I’m brainstorming with nature, like we’re sharing something elemental, and creating something new, together. And it feels right.

Surely the ‘ideas first’ approach will persist here, but I can feel ‘images first’ making a play for position. Whatever the outcome, I consider this blog a piece of art. Like a sculptor working with a beautiful piece of marble, I’m etching away at something, and every chance I get to remove an obscurity, lets you see that work a bit clearer. See me a bit more true. And the real beauty of it? It doesn’t just let you know me better, it lets me know me better.

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My Posse, 3rd in a series — How To Matter
05/04/2009 at 8:29 am

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zoe 04/13/2009 at 10:01 pm

I love this post, Jeb. You’ve tapped into some thoughts that have been deeply rooted in my mind recently.

First, on images: Interestingly, I find that the images come first when I am writing fiction. I want to write a post about how it always begins with an image when I am writing a short story, because I think it’s a pattern that strongly affects my style and approach. It’s strange that with blogging, I tend to start with an “idea” more often — though this post makes me want to explore visual prompts.

What you are describing reminds me of a theme in John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”, an essay I spoke about once on my blog. He begins by pointing out that photography is not simply an “objective” mechanical reproduction of “reality” — rather, it reveals much about the photographer based on the perspective, the frame, and the bias it shows.

Your last paragraph touches on what I too love about blogging — it is a medium so well suited to evolution. When I was mapping out my blog last week, I realized that ‘evolution’ is one of the main themes that ties it all together. I think you left something out, though — you also help us get to know ourselves better, as we follow your evolution.

Get Zoe’s content here..Extreme Journaling


2 Jeb 04/14/2009 at 10:25 am

Hey Zoe,
Boy, you always reference so many great pieces of literature. I don’t read nearly enough. But that essay, as well as some of the books you’ve reviewed and/or mentioned, sounds super interesting.

Interestingly, that photo prompt of the landfill you posted a while back may be what led to this transition for me. Though that was not an image I chose, I enjoyed writing about it immensely.

Since then, I’ve found myself taking pictures all over the place. Not just to capture the memories, but because so many images seem to be talking to me lately. Or, in some cases, I’m struck by this strong desire to tell their story.

I’m very happy to hear that the telling of my evolution, as you put it, is helpful to you. Thank you for sharing that. Cheers!


3 Kristin T. (@kt_writes) 04/14/2009 at 10:29 am

This is a great way to think about the process of forming and sharing ideas. You’re right-I’m an idea first, words second, headline third, image last blogger. It makes sense for me, since I think in stories, not images. But I really like the idea of turning it all around from time to time, to see what happens. It’s yet another way to better understand myself.

Besides that, I get really tired of the time I spend trying to find the perfect image to illustrate an already-written post. Sometimes it just all comes together, but more often, I spend far too much time, and end up frustrated and only moderately pleased with the end results. How refreshing it would be, from time to time, to just start with an image that intrigues me, and go from there.

I’ll let you know when I create a post the other way around.

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4 Jeb 04/14/2009 at 3:11 pm

Hey KT,
I’ve had that same frustration with finding just the right pic. A couple of months ago (perhaps at the beginning of this ‘image transition’) I decided I would only use pictures that I had taken. No more stock pics or otherwise royalty free images. I figured if I was writing about something that was important to me, I could probably find a picture in my library that would fit. And flipping through dozens/hundreds of your own pics is WAY more fun than doing so through pictures you have no connection to.

Looking very forward to your first ‘backwards post’. :)


5 Josh 04/14/2009 at 10:42 am

I like pictures! Reading is a drag. Unless I’m reading HTM of course.

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6 Jeb 04/14/2009 at 3:15 pm

Yeah, Josh, I figured, you being a design guy and all. Would love any tips and tools of the trade should you decide you were willing to share. :)


7 Henie 04/14/2009 at 2:43 pm


I am enjoying observing you listening to the whispers of your soul and the depth of your self-discovery!

It is I who is fortunate enough to be amongst the aspens and the pines applauding YOU!

WOW! Just WOW! :~)

Get Henie’s content here..Sunrise of the Sunset


8 Jeb 04/14/2009 at 3:22 pm

Well thank you for coming along for the ride, Henie…and helping to clear the path. You have been a great ‘image inspiration’ for me, and I’m very grateful. :)


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