Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes
What is old, what is new? What is foreign, what is familiar? It's all a question of perspective. Seldom do we stop and marvel at the things we have grown up with – landscapes, traditions, buildings. To rediscover the fascination of the familiar, what we need is a fresh pair of eyes. We invited a photographer to Tirol to capture on camera a place he had never seen before. Could his view of the region change the way we see our home?
Photographer Espen about this photo: "As a photographer I often travel alone. Maybe that's why I like to photograph people. On the day when I took this picture in the village of Vals I met almost no one. I drove from side valley to side valley looking for something to photograph, but the area was deserted. I stopped, pretty frustrated, to look at a small herd of goats. As I walked back towards the car, I suddenly saw this policeman staring at me. Silent and stoic. Finally, a human being! Even if he was only made of cardboard. The photo I took of him was actually the starting point for a series of good pictures in the valley."
Photographer Espen about this photo: "I live in a big city where spaces are very clearly defined – streets, for example, are there for cars. The chickens and ducks here in the Ötztal Valley obviously see things a little differently than I do as a city dweller. That was actually the reason why I stopped in the first place. The birds weren't impressed one bit by my car and just stayed put. As I got out to photograph them, a goose came and attacked me. I fled back into the car until the goose lost interest. When I got out again to take some more photos, she promptly came back. We repeated the game until I eventually gave up and headed off with the pictures I had been able to capture."
Discovering new things on your own doorstep is easier said than done. We are so used to what we see every day that we find it hard to discover our everyday settings with new eyes. But there is one trick you can use to marvel at the mundane.
A snowflake which appears from nowhere, landing as a perfectly formed crystal on the tip of your nose for an instant before melting away. Swirling mist penetrated by the piercing rays of the early morning sun. A chestnut-eyed cow who knows precisely where to go just from the body language of the farmer.
Moments of peace, moments of perfection, which should make us stop and stare – but which are all too often taken for granted by those of us who are lucky enough to live in Tirol.
Photographer Espen about this photo: "For me as someone who had never been to Tirol before, many of the places here were very exotic – and nowhere was this feeling more pronounced than at the nunnery in Zams. For one thing there was the landscape with its steep mountain slopes. In Norway, where I was born, we have are mountains too, but there they are much rounder and less high. Even more amazing was the farm run by the nuns. I didn't even know such a thing existed. The nun in the picture grew up on a farm herself, and her loving treatment of the animals was beautiful to see. I immediately had the feeling: that this place has a good atmosphere."
Photographer Espen about this photo: "This enigmatic block of ice in Schmirn immediately fascinated me. Why is it there? Who made it? Was it made for tourists? Is the local council behind it? Or maybe an artist? Looking for answers, I walked around it a few times. Two groups of people were looking at it with similar interest as I was. When I approached them, it turned out they were tourists too – and just as perplexed as I was. To this day I still haven't figured out why the block was there."
A regrettable but inevitable part of growing up is losing our fascination for the world. Scientists refer to the brain developing "resonance routines" so as to process what goes on around us in the most efficient way possible. It would, after all, hardly be practical if we stood and stared every time we left the house to take the kids to school or dropped the car off for a service. But is is not just this habitualisation to everyday life which stops us from marvelling at the mundane. Never before have we as humans been exposed to such a barrage of photos, videos, news etc. As a result we have become good at sorting information, but this flood of new material makes it much harder for us to be genuinely surprised, interested, intrigued by what we see.
From the pale haze of the Milky Way to the sun reflecting on the peaks of the mountains – most of us probably couldn't explain the processes behind these phenomena, but at the same time we know scienstists can. In the age of the internet, the answer to almost any question is just a click away. Yet the secret to being fascinated – to seeing the world once again through the innocent eyes of a child – is to not whip out your smartphone and hit the search button. A Google search may deliver an answer, but what it cannot give us is a feeling. Despite the advances of modern technology, we still yearn for feelings. We climb mountains. We fly around the world. We queue up to buy ski passes. Our quest is for those magic moments which take us away from it all. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said that to marvel is the greatest achievement of mankind, while Plato saw the ability to be fascinated by the world around us as the root of all philosophy. Being confronted with new and unexpected things was, he believed, essential for our desire as humans to acquire new knowledge.
Photographer Espen about this photo: “Throughout my time in Tirol I was inspired by the beautiful wood used here. I had never seen this colour before. I don't know if it's a special type of tree or if the wood changes colour because of the climatic conditions. Whatever, I found the wood here so beautiful that I photographed it all the time. With this stable door in the Ötztal Valley I was fascinated by how the different elements were arranged. It is an involuntary composition that seems almost purposeful, fulfilling the requirements of the “golden ratio”. In Berlin you go to art school to learn something like that. Here in Tirol it seems farmers have a natural eye for composition.”
Photographer Espen about this photo: "At the beginning of my journey I drove straight down a dead end. The valley I wanted to go to was closed due to the risk of avalanches. At first I was annoyed because I was not able to get to where I wanted to go. I had never had anything to do with avalanches before and had always thought that they almost never happen anyway. But over time I understood how omnipresent they are in Tirol. This man in the Kaunertal Valley helped me by answering my many questions. Now I not only know the difference between loose snow avalanches and dust avalanches, but have also understood how routinely people here deal with them in their everyday lives."
Scientists have even proven that the ability to marvel at the world around us is something which actually makes us better people. Researchers in the US conducted a study which showed that those in a state of awe are more willing to help and are more cooperative. One group of test subjects was sent out to wander beneath mighty mammoth trees, while the other group was given the task of gazing at a boring office building. Both groups were then asked to help hand out tickets – and those who had spent their time in the forest were more generous. They were also more willing to help others pick up some pens and pencils which were "accidentally" dropped onto the floor as part of the experiment. The reason? Scientists believe that people who had been in a state of awe shortly beforehand placed less importance on themselves, making them more aware of others and willing to help.
This means that when our understanding of the world is turned on its head – even for a brief moment – we are able to see ourselves as part of a bigger picture. People who experience a sense of awe on a regular basis tend to think less about themselves and more about their fellow human beings. Good reason, if any were needed, to stop and enjoy the moment just that little bit more often. Easier said than done. Indeed, can we as adults ever learn to see the world once again through the eyes of a child?
Photographer Espen about this photo: "As a visual thinker, I travel the world with certain preconceptions – even about places I have never been to before. Before I arrive I already have images in my head. One of them is the ideal image of snow-covered mountains. For me, this creates a dichotomy. On the one hand, I don't want to take a photo that already exists a billion times. On the other hand, however, I am fascinated by the fact that this mountain world is not just a postcard motif but really exists. Trudging through the snow, the Olperer suddenly shone in this great light above the valley. I found the beauty so beguiling that I didn't care how many times a similar picture might already exist. At that moment, I just had to take the photo."
Photographer Espen about this photo: “Even if it looks like the opposite at first glance, for me the car and the load are somehow in balance. The person who loaded the logs obviously knows the maximum load he can pack into his car before it collapses. During my time in Tirol I encountered this pragmatism coupled with a wealth of knowledge time and time again. This image from Vals is a good example.”
There is, in fact, a trick you can use. All you need it a little time and a new pair of eyes – for example, a person who has never been to the Alps. The photos accompanying this blogpost were taken by Espen Eichhöfer, who knows the landscapes of winter well from his home country Norway but who had never been to Tirol before.
Photographer Espen about this photo: "Is the horse trying to be cow? Or is the horse a model for the cow? When I looked at the two, I suddenly had the impression that they were related. The similarity in shape between the animals somehow attracted me. I then took a close look at the farm because I thought the place was so beautiful. The animals and me, me and the animals. Sun. A perfect world. I can't explain exactly why, but at that moment I needed the peacefulness this place exuded."
Accompanied by someone for whom everything is new, you find yourself suddenly intrigued by things you have walked past a thousand times. The leaves gently moving in the wind. The laughter of a child running around the playground. The boldness of the moutain goats perched on seemingly vertical rockfaces. Then, slowly but surely, you learn to see once again the beauty and fascination of Tirol.