In this Thought Piece, in the series where I explore the constructs in the 10 Signifier Model of Object-Oriented Photography Onion Diagram, I will discuss attentiveness.

10 Signifier Model of Object-Oriented Photography (Attentiveness) – Alison Price, January 2022

The exercise of thinking more deeply about the theoretical and practical meaning and implications of the constructs has provided me with a greater insight into how the constructs connect and relate.  For example, in the case of attentiveness, there are clear links to exteroception and interoception that I wrote about in Thought Pieces 18 and 19.

The various definitions of attentiveness include being observant, watching or listening carefully and the general quality of the attention given to a person or object.  The act of being attentive encourages being in the present and taking account of all the senses, not only the overly dominant visual and sounds, but those of touch, taste, and smell.

During my research, I have often turned to writers of prose and poetry as a means of understanding and developing my skills of attentiveness.  For example, the meticulous and detailed observations of Nan Shepherd in The Living Mountain (1977) provide me with an insight into what quality attention means and how it is achieved.  In her case, walking in the Cairngorms throughout her life provided her with the backdrop for her work, but it was her own intense interest in the natural world and ability to convey what she sensed through elegant prose and detailed observation that proved a winning combination.

A passage that I particularly like is where she describes silver birch trees, a subject I have spent many hours photographing:

“Birch, the other tree that grows on the lower mountain slopes, needs rain to release its odour.  It is a scent with body to it, fruity like old brandy, and on a wet warm day, one can be as good as drunk with it.  Acting through the sensory nerves, it confuses the higher centres; one is excited, with no cause that the wit can define.

Birch trees are least beautiful when fully clothed.  Exquisite when the opening leaves just fleck them with points of green flame, or the thinning leaves turn them to a golden lace, they are loveliest of all when naked.  In a low sun, the spun silk floss of their twigs seems to be created out of light.  Without transfiguration, they are seen to be purple – when the sap is rising, a purple so glowing that I have caught sight of a birch wood on a hillside and for one incredulous moment thought the heather was in bloom.”  (Shepherd 1977 p53).

Among Trees 16 – Alison Price, January 2021

At the beginning of Chapter 10, Shepherd speaks of how she has come to know the mountain through her senses, and how they have afforded an awareness only borne from a lifetime of observations, sounds, textures, tastes and smells.

“Well, I have discovered my mountain – its weathers, its airs and lights, its singing burns, its haunted dells, its pinnacles and tarns, its birds and flowers, its snows, its long blue distances.  Year by year, I have grown in familiarity with them all.  But if the whole truth of them is to be told as I have found it, I too am involved.  I have been the instrument of my own discovering; and to govern the stops of the instrument needs learning too.  Thus the senses must be trained and disciplined, the eye to look, the ear to listen, the body must be trained to move with the right harmonies.  I can teach my body many skills by which to learn the nature of the mountain.  One of the most compelling in quiescence.” (Shepherd 1977 p90).

I find Shepherd’s words inspiring not just in terms of the level of detail, but also in terms of how attentiveness can lead to a greater awareness of being.  Her words for me, also reinforce how the ten constructs overlap and merge in the search for the realisation of being.

In Shepherd’s words in Chapter 12 Being:

“Here then may be lived a life of the senses so pure, so untouched by any mode of apprehension but their own, that the body may be said to think.  Each sense heightened to its more exquisite awareness is in itself total experience.  This is the innocence we have lost living in one sense at a time to live all the way through.” (Shepherd 1977 p105).



Shepherd, N. (1977). The Living Mountain. Edinburgh, Canongate Books.



Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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