Elizabeth M. Williams Photography: Regarding Human Perception


"We shall see but a little if we are required to understand what we see." - Henry David Thoreau
"The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes." - Marcel Proust


My photography seeks to freeze-frame that moment when we experience visual ambiguity and then rely on habituated perception to "determine" what we are seeing.  As Zen teacher Cheri Huber explains, "We go to conditioned mind for a story, a label, an opinion, a belief, presupposing that everything 'should' be a certain way."  Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki elaborates on this by noting, "As soon as we see something, we start to intellectualize it, but as soon as we intellectualize that something, it is no longer what we saw."  Thoreau also points out, "Many an object is not seen, though it falls within the range of our visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray - that is, we are not looking for it.  And so, in a sense, we find only the world we look for."  Purposefully enigmatic, my images are intended to elicit and prolong a state of not knowing.  In Buddhist terms, this could be called "beginner's mind" in which all possibilities are available.  Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh summarizes these ideas by indicating, "For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them."

Derived from urban environments, my images are the result of serendipitous discoveries.  The images are neither staged nor manipulated.  At the same time, they frequently are de-contextualized and then re-contextualized the moment when the photograph is taken.

"Elizabeth captures the layers of visual communication that fill urban environments, finding moments when our highly designed world coalesces into a new image.  Her work has a playful Pop aesthetic, but at its core is a serious investigation into what is 'real.'  She involves the viewer in a game of interpretation, which might ultimately remain ambiguous, yet in the meantime delights with the pure pleasure of engaged seeing," explains gallerist Danielle Fox of Slate Art, where Elizabeth has been represented.

Berlin artist Benjamin Heidersberger refers to Elizabeth's photographs as "intelligent pictures." Heather Green, who curated a solo show of Elizabeth's work at Stanford University, adds that "Elizabeth's photography disrupts viewer expectations and upends habitual ways of seeing," while Richard Friswell, Managing Editor of ARTESmagazine, notes that "Seeing isn't always believing in Elizabeth's clever blend of fact and fiction.  Her playful constructs blur the lines of reality with a gentle yet unrelenting sense of irony.  Her work can be described as 'trompe l'oeil photography' - images that fool the (perceptual) eye."  

Photo: Untitled (South Berkeley), 2016
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