Mindful Seeing

I was distracted (my attention was taken away from what I was doing) yesterday by a blog post that took me first to a fascinating article and from there to an equally fascinating website.

Mindful Seeing

If you remember, in my last post, I briefly introduced D’arcy Norman’s idea of “mindful seeing.” Mindful seeing is paying more attention to what you see and, as a result, seeing more – textures (how something feels when you touch it), light, shapes, patterns (repeated shapes, colors, lines), groupings (several things together), even messages.

The article I saw yesterday introduced me to a great example of mindful seeing. I’d like to share it with you because I think you’ll enjoy the photography, and because it will give you an opportunity to have some fun with words.

Richard Nagler lives and works in northern California, near San Francisco. He runs (manages) a company that manufactures skylights (windows in the roof of a building), but he’s rapidly becoming known for his photography.

Nagler recently published a book called Word on the Street. He spent more than 35 years looking for images (pictures) that included one person and one word. They had to be natural – he didn’t plan them or pose (arrange) them. They had to come together in an accidental way. Nagler said that some of the images came together very quickly, almost immediately. Others took weeks.

Word on the Street began in the 1970s when Nagler saw an old building in Oakland, a city in Northern California, that had the word TIME bolted (attached with bolts, or metal pins) to it in large letters. As he looked up, an elderly (old) woman looked out of a window above TIME, but she quickly closed the curtain when she saw him. He returned several times during the next few weeks before he was finally able to capture the image (take the photograph) he wanted – the word TIME and the elderly woman together.

Word Play

When you look at Nalger’s Word on the Street photographs, you may get a new or better understanding of some of the words. There are 21 photographs from the book on his web site. You’ll know a lot of the words in them. But here are some that you might not know or that might be used differently than the way you learned them:

  • special (important to someone)
  • eternal (continuing forever)
  • providence (the force that controls what happens in our lives)
  • imagine (to form a picture in your mind about what something could be like)
  • lies (things that are not true)
  • grace (moving in a way that is relaxed and attractive)
  • further (adj: more or additional)
  • downtown (the center of a city)
  • farewell (saying goodbye)
  • victory (success when you win)
  • Elvis (Presley, of course!)
  • infinity (space or number without an end)

The photographs change automatically. If you want to stop them so you can look at one for a longer time, click on the middle of the photograph. To start them, click on the middle of the photograph again.

His pictures have been called playful (funny; entertaining); poignant (make you feel sad); ironic (seeing/hearing the opposite of what you expect); and shocking (surprising; upsetting; difficult to believe). What adjectives would you use to describe them?

You can find more of Nagler’s Word on the Street photographs on web pages from National Public Radio, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times.

A Bonus (something good you didn’t expect)

Nagler has used the same method to create another set of photos called Looking at Art. In this collection there are no words, just people and pieces of art. If you like art, I think you’ll enjoy this collection.

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photograph by W. Ediger taken at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

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23 Responses to Mindful Seeing

  1. Alvaro says:

    Just great! Nice things to look at…absolutelly amazing and interesting!

  2. Peter says:

    Mindful seeing is the best bless we ignore most!!!

  3. manor says:

    The song playing under the slideshow is Shadow Stabbing by Cake.

    Warren, thanks for another interesting topic.

  4. Sanaz says:

    Very impressive, extremely beautiful, and very meaningful. I have nothing to say just that I could find nothing in this world more powerful than art to lift and touch my sprit!
    Many thanks!

  5. emiliano says:

    Fascinating Collection.
    Skeptic view and very sad photos in general, but really true.
    I like them very much.

    Thank you Warren, always sharp.
    It´s a honor having you in the Blog.


  6. Roberto says:

    Thank you Manor! I have been looking for the title and the author of the song and I have no idea what they were.
    The pictures are very impressive and suggestive but, in my opinion, all have anything unusual. I like specially two of them: the photo wiht the word lies in red, the wall painted in an spectacular white and the intimading shadow over the person like a…blade? It seems like this poor person couldnt go on…; the other one inspire me a little sorrow and sadness about the worker man beside the word victory, but victory not for him, I am sure. However, the first photo with the woman in red is very nice. If the woman knew about the photo, maybe she would feel very very special.
    An interesting site Warren. Thanks.

  7. sara says:

    As always TNX for your wonderful post.

  8. Daniel says:

    Hello guys,

    I prefer two out of the 21 shown on his web site, America and Time.
    Time because still today nobody really knows what time is, and America is strange, there is this scaffolding suggesting someone is working, and at the same time there is this man
    sitting on a bench with a bag. Is he leaving? or He ‘s just harrived looking for a job. Someone just left leaving behind a can of soda, itis incredible how many questions can rise a simple photo.
    Bye, Thanks Mr.Ediger

  9. Betty says:

    Thank you, Warren, for helping us to learn more new words everyday with this ‘artistic’ method.

    I am afraid I am not an artistic person, and I definitely do not know how to appreciate abstract pictures.

    However, I think this is one of the ways for us to learn English vocabularies, especially if we find just one word in the whole picture, the one word will get stuck in our heads, and we may go home and get our dictionaries out to find out more about that word. This way, we will learn the word very efficiently and shall not forget it easily.

    This article reminded of one saying I heard a lot recently, which is:
    “A picture is worth a thousand words”, that’s why many people love taking pictures to capture a record of what they see.

    I can imagine all the pictures together will make us learn thousands of words, but I think it takes a lot longer than learning words with just ‘words’.

    In fact this article of Warren’s beats me, I find it hard to do a composition as a ‘homework’ to hand in to the teacher this time. Still, I hope Warren did not mind me writing some rubbish.

    I can only try my best.

  10. beatrice says:


    Many thanks for this discovery

    This article has inscreased my photography knowledge.

    And the 21 pictures have enjoyed me.

    (from France)

  11. Tania says:

    Hi! Regarding the Richard Nagler’s Word on the Street photographs I would classify them in this way including their synonyms :
    – playful: Grace = Charm, Further = Extra, Infinity = Endless, Elvis = Fan;
    – poignant: Please = Mercy, Hungry = Starved;
    – ironic: Exit = Way out, Oxygen = Essential to life(someone is smoking), Victory = Triumph (of the Hi.-Tech.), Eternal = For Ever, Special = Remarkable, America = Americana;
    – shocking: Lies = Falsehood; Love = Passion.

    I like Richard Nagler. Thank you.

  12. Tania says:

    Hi! You are right Roberto! The Victory is not for everyone.

  13. Tania says:

    Hi! Very good comment, Daniel! I feel the same.

  14. Tania says:

    Hi! Looking at the “Looking at Art” I was impressed by the following:
    – I could admire many pieces of art of the famous painters like Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse.
    – I could find out new famous painters. I have never heard about them. I like most Gerhard Richter as I love the light, the hope, the life … the bright colors.
    I don’t know if I like more Sigmar Polke’ work or the young mother rising high his boy to the light, to the hope of living.
    I like Edward Weston but especially the American sculptor John De Andrea – o novelty for me – the nude like art with all her grace.
    – And all those people admiring the pieces of art, everybody in his own style: an old man sleeps, another reads the newspaper, a boy and a girl have been kissing in front of the Van Gogh ‘s picture…

    Yes, I enjoy this collection. Thank you.

    Best wishes,


  15. Tania says:

    Hi! I succeeded in reading “Stardust Memories” by Zinsser on Friday.
    An interesting parallel between the new popular song writers (“Brother, can you spare a dime? / Baby, it’s cold out side / The lady is a tramp”) and the song lyrics dated from the golden age (1926 – 1966) of Broadway songs.
    Written in the Simple English I was able to understand almost every word.

  16. Tania says:

    Hi! Nice picture from the eternal Paris.

  17. Talal says:

    What do u mean Daniel. we dont know the time ???

  18. Valerie says:

    Thank you, Warren! Very meaningful idea… There is a lot to contemplate about. He must be a very talented person.

  19. Daniel says:

    Hello Tania,
    I meant we do not know what exactly Time is.
    The same scientists do not really know what is Time
    Did you know that when you look at the Sun (please do not look at the Sun directly you can get eye damage) you are looking at the past?
    It takes about 8 minutes to the light to travel from the sun to us, and that light was generated millions of years ago into the sun.
    And today, with modern telescopes like the Hubble they take pictures from when our Solar System wasn’t even born.
    Fascinating stuff I love it.
    My passions are: Astrnomy, English and Cats. What about you?

  20. emiliano says:

    Here I am having a good time reading all the opinions about the different photos also seeing them once and again as I read another point of view of all our Blog friends, and doing a nice single thing like that along the last weekend I have spent a good time.

    Well to me all of the photos are disturbing, too much meaning each snapshot and even what it´s more strange is that the people in several of them
    are just in the center of the shot which it´s not consider a good shooting in general, but here it result good, very extrange and good, by all means.

    In my own opinion all of them except “Imagine” are really sad, as much as I look to the photos more sadness I felt.
    One or two of them are really so controversial, “Love” and “America”, but even the others are really disturbing to me, they don´t show a
    nice soft world, no nothing to do with that,….Cover, Hungry, Lies, DownTown, Time and so on, they make me think a lot.
    Yes, I think it´s a pesimist way of seeing our environment and the people who are living among us.

    Despite this feeling I think the photos are really splendid, they seems simple and taken by an easy way what is uncertain as Warren
    has said to us.
    Lot of time and work just to take the right moment and light.
    The book has to be devastating, a cry to mankind trying to make a better world for our fellows what is really difficult.
    Daniel, Tania….in my opinion

    Time, the concept that there is more variable depending on whether you suffer, you enjoy you work or doesn´t work, you are on vacation or waiting
    the arrival of a loved one that never arrives.
    Time is lengthened or shortened depending on the situation that we live.

    A good book about Time and the cocept so highly subjective that it could be it is “The Magic Mountain” (Der Zauberberg) of Thomas Mann.
    This is a great novel and it is considered one of the most influential novel of 20th century in the german literature.
    As you are reading the novel you may see and even by you own experience that time is absolutely relative along all our lifes.
    In fact I think that Time doesn´t exist, we like to think about it as something we may measure but it´s an illusion.
    We are so short that we mean really nothing for the universe life.

    All the best.


  21. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you Emiliano and Daniel.

  22. Daniel says:

    Thanks Emiliano for your suggestion,

    I heard many times about that book, and i also gave it a try(Is that about a guy who goes in Switzerland from Germany due to breathing problem?).
    I did not read till the end, I got about at half of it, I am talking about 15 years ago when I was 25.
    I am sure that something similar happened to you as well. I am going to give it a second chance. I am changed and who knows, maybe i’ll love it.
    It is the magic of books.
    Bye, thanks.

  23. emiliano says:

    Yes Daniel, that is, good very good.

    I have read it twice several years ago, but I couldn´t ever forget it despite it´s long and it has too much to think about.
    It was written before the first world war and it is a look of the burguesy in Germany, the author had a foresight of what it was going to happen,
    decadency and a bad very bad war.
    In the real life, he or may be his wife had to be in a Sanatory in Davos to cure some problems of the lungs, in the sanatory there were also
    persons who suffer of tuberculosis and they were going to die.
    In the book that´s the real problem about people, the majority of them need to be there along months or even years to cure the
    tuberculosis, but some of them died, the same as in real life.
    Time in the Sanatory doesn´t count at all.
    The protagonist of the novel Hans Castorp goes to the Sanatory because he wanted to see a friend but afterward he has to remain inside
    the Sanatory as he is not in good health either.
    Cuca read the novel too and we were talking about it for years.
    At that time I always read in Spanish, my English wasn´t good enough and I was hungry of books every moment.
    Well I was young and anxious of everything.
    Just a pity not to know German to read the book in it´s original language.


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