The Artist's Extra Eye

The Artist’s Extra Eye

by Jeanne Borofsky

As I was walking around the other day, snapping photos with my cellphone camera, I realized my phone was sort of like an extra eye that I have acquired – one with a really good visual memory. I know a lot of artists use their phones to take pictures all the time, and I got to thinking about the uses we put those photos to.

Some people are very good about taking pictures every day and posting them somewhere for others to see. It is an incentive to look around more carefully (for the viewers, as well as the photographers).

Below are a sampling of photos that artist Soosen Dunholter has posted on Instagram.


Others of us are not that disciplined, and sort of binge-click when the fancy strikes – something that catches our eye, or something we want to remember.

Sometimes the photo is of something, such as a scene we want to paint but cannot do right there. Maybe it’s a pattern or texture we’d like to bring into our work.

Or perhaps it is someone else’s art work we want to remember or study again when we’re no longer in front of it to figure out how something was done.

Like this Kurt Schwitters collage.

I’ve been known to record my work in different stages, in case I want to be able to do it again, or feel like I’m going in the wrong direction and want to go back, or start again. It’s often easier to see the whole piece as a small image, to discover what’s working and what’s not.  It is also interesting to have a record of the various stages.

There are as many uses for these little “eyes”as there are people. But here are some questions:
Does taking photos of everything make us less likely to look carefully at things, or more so?
Are we substituting this extra eye for our own visual memory?
If we don’t recall something precisely, do we use our own creativity more in what we remember or not?
I don’t see myself giving up my phone camera, but I sometimes wonder at my reliance on it… is it a good thing or not?

What do you think?

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