Thursday, September 3, 2015

Looking Closer

Discovering reading glasses and Baader-Meinhof phenomenon

Looking Closer


You know how when you learn a new word, you suddenly find it popping up everywhere in your life?

This sort of deja vu, coincidence or syncronicity even has a name - the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

I started needing reading glasses recently, and just like that, I am encountering people all over the place using reading glasses. Last week I covered a public utility seminar at the Union League and at one point I looked around the ballroom and nearly every other participant had a pair of reading glasses on the table in front of them.

Are there suddenly more people out there with the glasses? Of course not. So why am I noticing them all of a sudden? This is what I started thinking about as I listened to a long presentation on electricity deregulation.

It's like when you discover a car model that appeals to you, when from then on everywhere you look somebody is driving one. Or like (I'm told) when a woman first finds out she's pregnant, all of a sudden she will see other pregnant women everywhere.

Our brains process and organize what we see by using patterns, so we notice the things that are repeated.

Maybe that's the reason why I am always shooting shadows, reflections, umbrellas and hats - and pigeons. (In my defense,  I shot the pigeon at City Hall, above, as I left the seminar, because I know a lot of people who can make bird hand shadows - but I didn't know some birds could make wine-bottle ones).

I guess the trick to making better photos, and not keep shooting the same things over and over, is to go against our brain's organization and try to notice the things that are not being repeated. The actions that we might normally ignore because they don't fit into some pattern. I find this happening most often when I get complacent and begin to pre-visualize my photos. My favorite pictures have always come when I keep my mind open to recognize and my camera ready to shoot when something unexpected presents itself.

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About this blog

Tom Gralish is a general assignment photographer at The Inquirer, concentrating on local news and self-generated feature photos.

He has been at the paper since 1983, photographing everything from revolution in the Philippines to George W. Bush’s road to the White House to homeless people living on the street right outside his newspaper's front door. For his photo essay on Philadelphia’s homeless, he was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Award.

His weekly newspaper column, "Scene Through the Lens," takes a look at Philadelphia's urban landscape.

Gralish, along with Inquirer colleague and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Vitez, spent a year visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art to capture the stories and photos of "Rocky runners" who come from all over the world to climb the steps - just as Sylvester Stallone did in the Academy Award winning film, Rocky. Their book, Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps, was published in November 2006.

Reach Tom at

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
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