The famed photographer Robert Frank once said, “The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” Now, isn’t that profound. The clear implication is that we need to truly notice what’s around us before we try to capture it through a camera lens. Yet, so many of us have grown accustomed to viewing the world through our omnipresent smartphones. Mary Murphy is here with a wise and cautionary message.  

Mary Murphy is a freelance photographer and former Providence Journal photographer.   


I am a photographer, although as a child I imagined myself as a writer. But I believe there are times when we who see ourselves as photographers should put down the camera, the smart phone, and just look at the world around us.

Take sunsets. I mean, do not take sunsets. Just look at sunsets. Watch the sun set. We all succumb to photographing a sunset now and then. But a sunset can never be caught in the camera, like what we can take in with our eyes. Or be captured as it slowly melts into the sky as night closes in.

Driving north across the beautiful Mount Hope Bridge recently I couldn’t help but marvel at the sunset, glowing in the western sky over the bay and Prudence Island. The clouds were stretched out in shades of mauve and rose. I actually wished that workers were on the bridge holding up traffic so that we could all stop and just enjoy. But I kept driving and as I drove through Bristol there was a man along the shore who just couldn’t help himself photographing the marvelous sky.

The urge to photograph sunsets is out of control. I point this out to my brother-in-law who monitors an online social media photo group in Rhode Island. “Why can’t these photographers just enjoy a sunset instead of shooting everyone they see?” he asked. When I broke my own edict against photographing sunsets one time and posted one on Instagram, he called me out. I know, sometimes we just can’t help it.

As a New Year’s resolution, I am suggesting that all of us who have a sunset photo in our past, rise early to watch the sunrise and try photographing that wonder in the sky. (My other admonition against photographing is famous paintings in the art museums of the world. Try simply looking at Van Gogh’s The Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. You can’t because museum-goers are swarming around this painting with their smart phones raised up. The crowds are so large that the museum posted a security guard at the painting. I look in horror at photos of the Louvre's gallery in Paris where the Mona Lisa hangs, practically strangled by the onslaught of people and their iPhones.)

A final confession: Because my friends who received my New Year’s card will call me a hypocrite. Sorry to say it was a photo of a sunset taken along the Malećon in Havana. The waves are crashing over the wall of this famous promenade as tourists and natives watch this nightly event. I’d like to think my photo captured something different, but maybe I’m making excuses for myself. The setting sun is not a record of a split second in time. It is evolving, ever mutating and a new surprise every evening. We should all try to experience that unfolding without a camera to our eyes.