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Eye Spy

This assignment ran from Sep 7 to Sep 28, 2015.

BEFORE submitting to this assignment, read the entire introduction below. This assignment will require a sequence of THREE photos to be eligible for publication in the story. Please do not submit triptychs or composite photos, I want three separate photos.

Hello, all! I’m a creative conservationist. From painting and photography to writing and stand-up comedy, I explore and combine new ways to conserve wilderness areas to ensure a wild future for us all.

Living in New York, I encounter one sentence all over the city: “When you see something, say something.” This assignment is about speaking up about what you see, about having a point of view. But it doesn't stop there. It's also about the eye itself: what an eye lets in when it's open, what it remembers when it's closed, and how each eye sees something different at any given moment. Each eye also changes with the light, and like snowflakes and finger prints, no two eyes are the same. When you take a photograph, you speak up about what you have seen. It gets the story out. When you photograph the eye, you also capture the moment of perception, how the eye dilates to take in information, how it squints to focus; the eye responds to the world, just as much as the world changes based on what an eye reports.

This assignment needs a sequence of three images to be considered a complete submission. You need to click a picture of an eye open, the same eye closed, and what the eye is looking at. Is the eye looking up? Down? Sideways? What story is the eye registering? The eye works the world out, and no two eyes see the world in the same way, so whether it's about inner awakening in a monk or the lack of insight in a corporation, there is an eye behind each system that is shaping this world. Think outside of the box, submit eyes of every shape, color, and size. Does the eye belong to your pet? Your child? Wildlife such as birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians? A robot? A camera? I want eyes both symbolic and real, from world cultures and life-forms. Look at the eyes being submitted by others and do one better, one different. Whether it is the eye of the storm, an Egyptian eye, the Indian third eye, the eye of Mordor, or the evil eye, the eye looks both inward and outward, and it is the organ that makes a subject or object exist or not. After all, beauty is in the eye of beholder.

Read about my inspiration for this assignment on Editors' Spotlight.

Curated by:

Asher Jay
National Geographic Explorer and Creative Conservationist
Assignment Status
  • Open

    Everyone’s welcome to contribute their best shot to open assignments. Learn more.
  • Closed

    Completed assignments—with our favorite photos included—will be published online. Learn more.
  • Published

    Once the submission period is over, we'll review all contributions and select our favorite images to be included in the story. Learn more.
Published Oct 4, 2015.
Thank you for your contributions!

Mystery of a Macro Eye

Posted sep 21, 2015

“What big eyes you have!' she said. 

"All the better to see you with, my dear."

I have always wondered about how a photograph can build a bias just based on the perspective from which it is captured. Think about the quote I commenced this editor’s update with, from "Little Red Riding Hood," a story we all grew up with. If I were to shoot a close-up of Red’s eye, wide open in shock, and then closed in a moment of pause, before showing you the third image, of a wolf dressed up as her grandmother looking menacingly at her, that sequence would inform the viewer that the eyes belong to a frightened little girl whom we can identify as Little Red Riding Hood because of what her eye is looking at. The same story, when you capture it from the wolf’s eye, would show Red looking rather judgmental of her “grandmother.” The eyewitness account is crucial to this assignment’s ask for a three-part story.

I want to fine-tune what I am looking for in your three-part submissions this week to ensure a variety of submissions. The first week gave me many sequences that have captured eyes big and small and at various focal lengths. This week it’s all about Macro focus.

1. Do not submit until you have properly saved your open eye, closed eye, and eyewitness account as THREE separate image files. Save these files to one Eye Spy folder on your computer to avoid confusion. This way your files are separate and in their own folder, which will reduce the chance of you accidentally uploading the wrong file.
2. Make sure your three images are the best choices for this assignment and for your portfolio BECAUSE there are NO take backs or do overs.
3. Do not submit an image and delete it in retrospect, as that counts for a submission. You are only allowed to upload three images, each one a single image, all telling the story you wish to share.

As highlighted, this week I would encourage you all to narrow your focus on just the eye. In fact, let’s make the eye the sole focus of our composition. In order to achieve this, we would need to bring the eye to life through a macro lens. It would be preferable to have either a single eye in focus or a pair of eyes, captured either from a full-frontal view or in three-quarters profile. This is to help all you talented photographers to problem solve for a visually arresting image within a rather restrictive frame. Usually limits help a creative mind get reigned in, and you’ll be amazed at the insights when you pay close attention to the “eye.” Just a reminder: The open eye and closed eye photographs need to look like identical images, except that in one shot the eye is open and in the other the same eye is closed. I want the viewer’s attention to fixate entirely on a beautifully photographed eye!

Don’t forget to set the stage, so first flesh out the story. Which eye is your protagonist/your star? Or is your eye the villain of the story? Give your eye a personality, a background story.

If you are photographing animals, birds, insects, or people, do not shoot their entire face or body but ONLY THEIR EYES. There are many ways to make the eye interesting despite capturing just the eyes.

The eye can either be conceptual, as seen with examples I cited in the past, or real. Play with how you bring the eye into focus for the viewer; even in close range it can be at varying distances. It can be an extreme crop of just the pupil or it can portray the whole eye. I repeat: I do not want to see who or what the eye belongs to … Photograph only the eye, without any form attached to it. Make the colors, textures, and patterns—in essence the anatomy of the eye—a thing of beauty. Pay attention to the way an old or young eye creases; those creases can differ based on life experience and emotional states. Work hard to create an arresting picture of the eye that could be animated like a gif, open and then closed. Don’t change the layout between the first two shots.

I want the viewer to look at the eyes you submit and wonder what entity could possess such an eye?! For instance, with the "Little Red Riding Hood" example, if we were to photograph that story, I don’t want the first two shots to make it clear whether we are seeing the story from Red’s point of view or from the wolf’s. Give the viewer a moment of suspense. The third image can either be the big reveal and tie the whole story together (a girl’s eyes looking at the wolf dressed as a grandmother enlightens us that those eyes belong to Little Red Riding Hood and she is about to be deceived by a wolf). The first two images are your set up, the third tells us the who, what, when, and where.

To ensure your close-up shots aren’t like everyone else’s images, you can control how the eye finds definition in light and shadow. Establish strong contrasts of positive and negative space. You can do this in color too, not just in black and white photography.

Don’t be afraid to come in close and take a picture that hasn’t been taken before. You can take the idea of “light” to a whole different level with this assignment, particularly with the third image, where you can really picture the world as viewed by the eye you chose as your subject.

A bee sees the world in the ultraviolet range of the visual spectrum. Someone who shoots a great macro photograph of a bee’s eyes could capture what the bee’s eyes are viewing in a cool palette, e.g., in shades of blue to qualify the view as an authentic portrayal of a moment witnessed by a bee. Or for those of you who have captured your dog’s eye, you could have submitted its point of view, its eyewitness account, in yellow. You see, behavioral tests suggest that dogs see in shades of yellow and blue and lack the ability to see the range of colors from green to red. In other words, dogs see the colors of the world as basically yellow, blue, and shades of gray.

I would not try to change anything in post-production as that would violate the rules of submission set forth by Your Shot. Instead I would persuade you to make advantageous use of naturally occurring light and shadows and perhaps bolstering tints with filters present on location.

Do not make the eye the camera or the photographer, because that is the obvious recourse, and it does not set your narrative apart from anyone else’s. Be the silent observer, tell someone else’s story, or tell your story in an inventive way.

Your first two shots introduce the mystery and sets the viewer up to ask, "Whose eye is this? What is it looking at? Why?" Ensure your eyewitness account is a compelling one, something that a persuasive storyteller or a photojournalist with an investigative mind would capture. A story the whole world needs to know now. I want a unique look into the human condition or animal perspective, into what it means to live in the world today.

Take your pick: From social concerns and politics to environmental issues and economic downturns, there are so many worthwhile stories that no one is speaking up about. We can use our creative voice and talent to tell something no one else has been able to cast a light on previously. We have plenty of stories that have been submitted wherein the eyes are not the featured visual component of the layout, nor do they appear in the correct sequence required to fulfill the parameters of the assignment. Many eyes have been shot at a distance that fails to prioritize the eye as the focus of the story, which means it does NOT meet the requirements of this assignment.

I need the next wave of member submissions to really read and heed this editor’s update and build on the successes mentioned before, while catering to the specific, tweaked requirements of the assignment this week.

Shout out to all the Your Shot members who have contributed thus far and to those of you who have been recruiting others to also submit something inspiring to #EyeSpy! This sort of collaborative, proactive community engagement is not only empowering, but it also lays a great foundation for the larger vision of this artistic endeavor.

I know you are all learning and trying new things along the way, for which I am so grateful! I do realize many of you want to capture more stories and contribute more content to Eye Spy. Clearly some of you are just bursting with ideas, and I highly commend your enthusiasm.

Since many of you have requested it, I will try my utmost to flesh out my initial concept of the interactive, online, public art platform that will not only use many of the Eye Spy stories from this assignment, but will also allow for another round of submissions in the future. I really hope I can do that for you all, because I sincerely value your participation, irrespective of whether you got it right the first time around or not. It is such a joy to see your stories!

In the interim, those who have already submitted images incorrectly due to technical difficulties or because you did not understand what was expected of you can continue submitting images to Your Shot for Eye Spy, under the #EyeSpy hashtag. Ensure you give a title to your story, which is present on the caption of each image, so we know which three images make one story. Also ensure you number them as 1 of 3, 2 of 3 and 3 of 3, so we know the sequence. Continued submissions will be considered for the online public art platform.

I Witness

Posted sep 11, 2015

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this vast array of innovative photo submissions certainly merits an essay update from the editor of the assignment—me!

Can I just begin by saying how impressed I am by all of you? I am so deeply touched by the commitment, competence, and enthusiasm demonstrated by the Your Shot community toward this assignment. I also think it is utterly delightful that you are all so supportive of one another’s work and vision. It is integral to the creative process and enables growth, which makes this forum highly addictive for me. So thank you for inspiring me with your input, comments, questions, and stories.

I began this assignment with a clear and simple ask: I wanted three images, submitted individually to tell a united and sequential story. I wanted an eye open, the same eye closed, and the view upon which that eye is gazing. You have all made me expand my interpretations and ideas about not only the assignment but also the eye itself, and I am so grateful for that. Thanks for pushing the boundaries and showing me how much fun can be had.

I’d now like to talk about some standout submissions we’ve had so far. Stuart Milliner did something extraordinary with the aurora borealis and thankfully submitted three separate images, which makes him both a successful example for how to push the boundaries of Eye Spy and a strong entry that addresses the ask of this assignment. I know one of my Editor’s Favorites, Patrice T., submitted an original triptych that inspired me to see the Earth as a witness to its own expanse, as a sensory-laden entity. Unfortunately, it was submitted in a layout that wasn’t acceptable to the parameters of Eye Spy. We need three separate image submissions, not a montage, photo collage, or layout. My apologies to Patrice, but while I thoroughly enjoyed the unique perspective of the image, sadly we cannot make any exceptions in the required format of three separate images. Shannon Hunt and Raydon Barrow were my first two successful sequential entries, dynamic black and white with a clear focus, and both helped reign others in to submit in accordance to the editor’s ask. And, of course, Mark Smith’s macro photography was captivating and incredibly detailed.

Other sequences that worked for the Eye Spy project, in light of the framework of this assignment: Eavonka Ettinger—I loved the Piggy Bank! Haha, so witty and imaginative! What a fabulous sequence; once again, not what I was anticipating as a submission for this assignment but it is conceptual as well as formatted properly (eye open, eye covered, and the point of view). It was such a great angle for the point of view, with the hammer coming down with the ceiling fan in the backdrop. You made us contemplate financial deficits and how we have to break into our savings or caches when times get hard. Like squirrels we too must save for a cold winter. Lovely! Leslie Brinkman, a woman after my own heart, captured a poignant series of a tiger mom and cub separated by steel bars in captivity. I was deeply stirred by that, as it portrayed an issue, a moment of connection, and separation, and it got a full frontal shot of a tiger's eyes open and closed. Just remarkable insight and timing!

People have made some inquiries about situations where the creature or object has eyes or eye-equivalents that do not close. What then? I would like to draw your eye to the series submitted by C. Rutledge, of the dragonfly looking up, looking down, and finding love. Charming. John Trent with his flamingos and its point of view, captured the moment when the flamingo hides its face into its feathers, and he further brought the story together by anchoring the series in a cohesive, muted pink and lavender palette.

I might have confused some of you by liking several extraordinary images that seem like just single shots that aren’t tethered to a story or series. Your confusion is justified because while these images are incredibly well captured, and thus worth acknowledging for technical prowess and for the beauty and emotions they evoke in the viewer, they are not viable submissions yet for Eye Spy. These images have the potential to tell incredible stories but they have not managed to submit two other images that successfully answered this assignment’s focus. I hope that any single image submitter will add the necessary additional two photos to qualify for inclusion in the Eye Spy project.

Eye Spy gives you all the freedom to think outside the box, but there is a box, and its basic dimensions are fixed. I need three images of one subject: the eye open, the same eye closed or hidden, and what the same eye is witnessing. This way the three images come together to tell one story. Some of you have done this more successfully than others, and it has brought me such joy when I saw some of you get it so completely right, and more so when some of you went above and beyond the ask! Thank you.

Overall, I consider it a privilege to be privy to the moments you have each shared. Some of you have been vulnerable and courageous in your submissions as well as in your admissions on the discussion board. I salute you. Please feel free to add me on Facebook or Instagram. I would love to have you all be a part of my online life and daily musings!

Now for the big reveal … I captured two stories while I was in the Hamptons this past weekend. I am not half as competent a photographer as some of you, but I have never let not knowing how stop me before.

1. Hollow Fox: The story behind this series is that I was staying with a vet who was telling me about road kill incidents on the roadways, and this fox fur was from a victim. It wasn’t being used but kept as a reminder. I wanted to tell the story of the fox, because to me every life matters and I didn’t want this fantastic creature to have died without being able to speak up for his kind. I made him the poster child for road kill in this narrative, by showing its vacant, lifeless stare; its collapsed, hollow, shut eye slits; and the last moment he was witness to, right before he breathed his last from his reclined point of view.

2. Box Turtle Twosome: We were examining the four rescued box turtles that had been rehabilitated to a habitat, and when my friend picked up the female from the water, she was shy at first but poked her head out in search of her male companion. The point of view is thus the male between the blades of grass. When we picked him up, he was eager to return to her too and the ground she was stable on.

Asher Jay

Asher Jay

National Geographic Explorer and Creative Conservationist
Asher Jay, is saving the world’s threatened wildlife—with creativity. Her cause-driven art, sculpture, design installations, films, and advocacy advertising campaigns bring attention to everything from the blood ivory trade to plastic pollution. Jay’s upcoming projects will tackle biodiversity loss due to wildlife trafficking and climate change. Tackling issue after issue, Jay’s projects have become global sensations. Yet her ultimate goal is to motivate the one person she believes holds the real power to determine nature’s fate. You.