July 13, 2024


Sublime Arts Bar None

Defamiliarization in Photography

Defamiliarization in Photography

When people ask me what I studied in University, they are usually surprised to hear that I majored in English Literature. One because I guess they expect to hear that I studied photography, or two because they’re simply surprised to hear that an Asian actually decided to major in English as opposed to Science, Engineering, Commerce, etc.

While I haven’t retained too much from what English Lit. has taught me, one concept which I have been whispering in back my head as of late is Defamiliarization. Essentially it’s an artistic technique in which the spectator sees common and familiar things in a new or strange way. The term itself originates from the Russian ostranenie, which can be literally translated as “to make strange”. The concept is applied to poetry more than anything else, which makes sense because of the inherent depth of meaning and symbolism we find within seemingly simply constructed verses.

Although we may not be poets, this is a practice which we ought to find attractive as photographers. A lot of us have put this into practice one way or another. For example, think about black and white photography for a second. Depending on what you’re shooting and trying to achieve, color sometimes serves as a distraction, yet color is what we all see on a regular basis. Done correctly, capturing an image in b/w will allow us to see it in a completely different and strange new way. Macro, abstract, just about any form of photography really can be used to achieve this, it’s just a matter of paying closer attention to the details around you and noticing the beauty that’s already there. Your subjects don’t always need to be grand or exotic to be interesting, because defamiliarization isn’t meant for the novel.

This might sound a bit flowery and oversimplified, but I believe that every object crafted by human kind has been imbued with some degree of artistry, each bearing the mark of its creator’s vision and creativity. All we need to do is see that it’s there.