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Seeing Without Looking

Taking inspiration from the masters is a good way to build up an aesthetic appreciation, but Alister Benn argues you should make time to try new things and see what works, that way you can create your own aesthetic

As a youngster in the Highlands of Scotland in the 1970s and 80s I would say I had a fairly classical education; by which I mean I grew up appreciating the mastery of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Turner and Dali, to name but a few. Photographically, I was more naive, but the names of Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell were known to me, and those names meant ‘master’. As I look back through five decades of existence, it is only now I realise how much my idea of what is classic, or aesthetic, has been shaped by the views of the society I grew up in. I now call this aspect of my awareness my Nurture, or Cultural Aesthetic.

Twice this year I visited the Gobi Desert and spent a good amount of time in complete mental solitude and did some serious thinking, one of the key epiphanies being that I was very interested in discovering my Natural (or Innate) Aesthetic, regardless of whether it conformed to classic cultural doctrine, rules, dogma or even prejudice.

If you are at all dubious about the idea of a cultural aesthetic, consider people growing up in other places around the world. My...

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Alister Benn

Alister Benn is a full-time landscape photographer, author and guide. Having lived for over a decade in the Himalaya of Tibet and SW China, he now lives and works on the Isle of Skye with his wife Juanli Sun.

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