Posted by: kerryl29 | June 20, 2013

People Seeing Without Observing

And in the naked light I saw

10,000 people maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

–From The Sound of Silence by Paul Simon

At this point it must appear, based on the last few entries I’ve posted on this blog, that I spent most of my time in the Smokies this past April confronting yahoos.  That’s not true; but I can certainly understand why it might seem that way.  I’ve simply used the handful of such encounters as an excuse to post some images from the trip thematically, rather than as a day-by-day or location-by-location chronology.

And yet…

Rhea Shrugged

On the morning of my first full day in the Smokies I decided to shoot sunrise from the Foothills Parkway.  The Parkway, which is managed by the National Park Service, has a section with a terminus just a few miles northwest of Townsend, Tennessee, and encompasses a series of scenic pullouts overlooking the Smokies to the south and east and the Tennessee Valley to the north and west.  From Townsend, it takes ten minutes, tops, to reach the first Smokies overlook.  I’ve visited this spot numerous times without ever seeing a brilliant sunrise, and in my continuing quest to do so, headed to the overlook in the early morning darkness on April 16.

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

The overlook is beautiful, even without a phenomenal sunrise, but I enjoy having my cake and eating it too, so I was hopeful, based on the weather forecast, that something truly special might be in the offing that morning.

I was not disappointed.  There were broken clouds in the eastern sky and as the light came up I could see evidence of fog in the valley below me.  All the elements of a great sunrise scenic were firmly in place.

All of the images accompanying this post come from that morning’s shoot.  I have a number of others, but I just wanted to provide a taste of what I witnessed and captured that morning.   It was, by far, the best sunrise I’ve ever seen from the Foothills Parkway, and one of the nicest I’ve seen anywhere in a very long time.

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

The first overlook on the Foothills Parkway, where I was stationed that morning, is a good-sized one.  I’ve often seen a dozen or more photographers at the spot for sunrise, and there’s no concern about anyone getting in the way of someone else.  On this morning, there were only two others, and they appeared to be shooting together; they were set up approximately 50 feet to my left.

When the sun cleared the mountains to the southeast, the other two photographers started to pack up their things.  I continued to shoot, because I’ve had some success with long lens landscapes from this location.  As they were gathering their belongings, I heard one of the photographers say to the other:

“Well, that was a shrug.”

He was referring to the sunrise.

The other responded:  “Yeah, that’s far from the best sunrise I’ve seen.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Maybe that’s because this was, hands down, the best sunrise I’d ever seen from the Foothills Parkway.  Perhaps the other photographers had seen better from this spot.  But, even though this wasn’t the most spectacular sunrise I’ve seen it was still breathtakingly beautiful.  I simply couldn’t–still can’t, in fact–believe that anyone who had experienced this sunrise would describe it as “a shrug,” regardless of their experiences.

Is it possible to reach a point where people become so numb to the natural beauty surrounding them that, even when they intentionally visit a spot specifically for its aesthetics, they’re unable to appreciate it, even when it rises up and slaps them directly in the face?

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee


After thinking about this for some time, I’ve come to the conclusion that, if someone becomes sufficiently jaded to the point of becoming bored or cynical about a natural event like the Foothills Parkway sunrise that I experienced on April 16 of this year, it’s time to put the camera away for awhile and reassess one’s feelings and reactions.  I’d like to think that, if this ever happens to me, I’ll take my own advice.

In the end, however, my real hope is that this is a problem I’ll never have to face.  It would mark the time when I began photographing for the sake of it, or photographing in an (undoubtedly unsuccessful) attempt to produce “trophy” imagery.  Those are things I never want to do because, if I ever begin to see things without observing them, it will be the point where meaning has faded into oblivion.

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee



  1. I’m still in awe of your photography!

    The other two photographers that you overheard may have been locals who visit that spot on an almost daily basis. I know that from the few times that I’ve watched sunsets anywhere along Lake Michigan, that dozens of people show up every evening to watch the sunsets. I heard similar comments from many of them, even after a “good” sunset. I suppose that one could get jaded, I’d like to think that it would never happen to me.

    • Thanks. Good thought on the possibility/probability of the two other photographers being locals, but…their car had an Ohio license plate (a fact I neglected to mention in the writeup), so I’m guessing that’s not it.

      • They’re from Ohio, that explains everything. 😉

  2. Beautiful images, Kerry….as always….and very compelling words, too. In my almost three years here in the SLC area, I still intentionally look at the mountains every day…actually look AT them and admire them for what they give my deeper being. Thanks for the “reminder” to see….and for your wonderful images, again.

    • Thanks, Scott. BTW–and not incidentally–you’ve posted some really, really nice images on your blog lately

      • You are most welcome….and thank you for the kind words, too, Kerry.

  3. These are gorgeous, Kerry.

    • Thanks very much.

  4. But, but, but, Kerry …….. you never told us how you knew one of them was named Rhea. :-).

    As usual, spectacular images

    • [rim shot] 🙂

      To be honest, I wasn’t sure if that metaphorical reference was too obscure to use.

      Thanks, Andy.

  5. Your sunrises are sublime. I would have to blow one up and keep it on my wall. 🙂

  6. I did a similar-feeling post this week in my “curves” challenge entry – I was in North Carolina. It’s funny, I did a shoot from the same exact spot 2 years ago and the sunrise then was much more spectacular. HOWEVER, I was very happy with the very different feel I got from this year’s shoot. The beauty is there to be found no matter what the conditions – it’s up to the photographer to “see” and capture it. I agree with you 100% Kerry. And your photos are beautiful. If you’re interested, my sunrise shots are at

    • Thanks, Tina. And thanks for providing the link; the layered ridges in your images are quite reminiscent of some areas that are visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway (which shouldn’t be surprising, I guess, since the parkway skirts right by Asheville) –very nicely done!

  7. I’m doing a bit of a struggle with my Bandon Beach when so many shots start to look or feel much the same. For various reasons, I haven’t been able to get the timing for sunrises or sunsets (and then that cursed fog layer seems to arrive the few times I have managed it.) That’s when I figure it’s time to take a breather… I headed into the mountains and have also been switching to flower macros. I imagine, in time, I’ll be able to see my beach with a fresh eye again. But I’m not sure I could ever blame it on the beach setting itself as a “shrug”…

    • I can understand feeling as though you’re beginning to spin your wheels with a certain place; that’s probably when it’s time to take a step back and go somewhere new for awhile. Do so, and then return to the original spot and see if you don’t observe it an entirely new light (pardon the pun).

  8. Pleasing cloud formations, great colour and morning mist… what more could you want in a sunrise? Nature created it and you were there to capture it. Well done!

    • Thanks very much, Angela.

  9. Kerry, your first photo is so beautiful that I gulped, breathed deep, and stared at it for a long, long time. I’m with you all the way on this post, though I must admit that you had me from the first Buffalo Springfield quote 🙂 It is not only a photographer’s dilemma, it is true of any artistic perception. “Pay attention” is my mantra about life in general and in the quest for capturing a moment in particular. Seeing a moment for what it is, really seeing it (or hearing it, etc.) is the gateway to a transcendent experience. Which you have demonstrated so beautifully in your photos. Gulp. Deep breath. Smile.

    • Thanks very much, Lynn, and very, very well said re capturing a moment.

      BTW, Simon and Garfunkel (not Buffalo Springfield)…though, come to think of it, “For What It’s Worth” seems apropos as well. 🙂

      • Oh yeah, sorry, I didn’t go back and look at the lyrics -argh! I somehow assumed it was FWIW. My bad 🙂

  10. Rhea shrugged—cool…subtle! Isn’t it amazing how photography has a way of leading one down unexpected paths? The photographer, ostensibly seeking an image, will occasionally find something a quite a bit deeper along the way. Your observation is a good one, Kerry: familiarity can move the fulcrum from rapture at one end of the balance to boredom at the other. Awareness of this tendency is helpful in fostering a fresh and open eye.

    • Very, very well put. Thanks for stopping by, Tom.

  11. Superb pictures – so much depth and delicacy.

    • Thanks, Robert!

  12. Very wonderful series of pictures here!!!

    • Thanks very much, Alex.

  13. Super photos and text Kerry ! It’s true…a lot of folks look, but don’t really see. It could be they don’t have an interest or they have become jaded to their surroundings. Gosh, I hope that never happens to me!

    • Thanks, David. Agreed–there’s a lot of “taking for granted” going on. I ran across a remarkable amount of that sort of thing when I was in the Smokies.

  14. […] People Seeing Without Observing […]

  15. your pictures are beautiful… greetings from Berlin

  16. Your words resonate strongly with me. I live in northern Michigan, and drive along the bay in Traverse City a few times a week. Even on the cloudiest of days I think it’s beautiful, and I hope never to become so numb to my surroundings (I moved here just over 3 years ago, so it still seems new to me to some extent) that I don’t see the obvious beauty. I carry a camera with me almost everywhere I go, and if it’s a place I’ve been loads of times, I just don’t capture images if the shot’s not up to some internal measure. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the scenery for its own merits.
    For what it’s worth, your sunrise photos show me anything but a shrug of a sunrise.

    • Thanks very much for the comment. I spent my undergrad years in Ann Arbor, but during that time never got any further north in Michigan than Grand Haven. In the past 11 years, however, I’ve spent at least one fall week in the UP with my camera five times–and just returned from my most recent excursion there this past Thursday.

      As I alluded to in this entry, if I ever reach a point where I take a natural scene for granted, it’ll be time to question why I’m doing what I’m doing (and whether I should bother continuing). It sounds as though we see eye-to-eye on that point.

      Again, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to post a thoughtful comment.

  17. […] completely fogged in. Nothing was visible. We left without ever seeing anything. (I had better luck subsequently.) A worst case example, sure, but it’s emblematic of what can happen when it’s one and […]

  18. […] principal purposes are 1) to relate an experience; or 2) to make a point. (Or occasionally both.) In my view, sometimes this is best accomplished by posting some of what I consider to be my best […]

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