9 Photographers on Keeping Their Eyes Open to the World around Them

In a new book for young readers, Rinko Kawauchi, Alec Soth, Wendy Red Star, and others speak about how we engage with the world through the camera.

Alex Webb, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 1996

“The camera can be a way of connecting to people and places while also expressing yourself,” writes photographer Susan Meiselas at the beginning of Eyes Open: 23 Photography Projects for Curious Kids, a new book of ideas for young readers to engage with the world through the camera. Broken into twenty-three short, thematic chapters—ranging from “Alphabetography” and “Light,” to “Movement,” “Neighborhood,” and more—each idea starts with a prompt, illustrated with pictures by students from around the world, and followed by the words and images of professional artists who share their ways of seeing. “When you point your camera at a person, a place, or a community, think about what you want to convey,” Meiselas writes. “Who is the picture for? The people in the picture? Yourself? Or both? What are you sharing? What are you giving back? This is what I always ask myself.” Playful and meaningful, this book is for young would-be photographers and those interested in expressing themselves creatively.

Below, we’ve gathered five highlights from Eyes Open.

Light: Can you capture how light shapes, hides, exaggerates, and transforms where and what it touches?

Rinko Kawauchi, Untitled, 2011, from the series Illuminance
Courtesy the artist

Rinko Kawauchi

“I want imagination in the photographs I take. You wonder, ‘What’s going on?’ You feel something is going to happen.”

Alex Webb, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 1996
Courtesy the artist/Magnum Photos

Alex Webb

“When I look at a scene, I am sensing not just what seems to be happening in front of my eyes and the various shapes that fill the frame, but I am also aware of . . . the color of light, the angle of light: how a shaft of light, or a particular tone of light, can utterly transform a situation.” —Alex Webb

Animals around You: When you see animals in the world around you, think about their state of being, their conditions, their habitat. How do they live: enclosed, roaming, wild, domesticated?

Gregory Halpern, Untitled, 2010
Courtesy the artist/Magnum Photos

Gregory Halpern

“Animals are like humans in the sense that they want and need the same basic things. But humans hide their feelings, whereas animals reveal fear, anger, and affection so readily.”

Sage Sohier, Boy in Barn with Cat and Pony, Rowley, Massachusetts, 1992
Courtesy the artist

Sage Sohier

“People are proud of their animals and like to show them off. Animals are active, funny, and surprising, so people tend to be much less self-conscious in front of the camera.”

Portraits in a Place: Can you place yourself in a landscape that is meaningful to you?

Graciela Iturbide, Self Portrait, Botanic Garden, Oaxaca, 1999
Courtesy the artist

Graciela Iturbide

“Photography for me is just an excuse to get to know the world. When you are an artist or a photographer, you always need to establish a connection to the place where you are. Without the camera, you see the world one way; with it, you see the world another way.”

Personal Space: How does a room express the personalities of those who live there?

Alec Soth, Untitled 36, Bogotá, Colombia, 2003
Courtesy the artist/Magnum Photos

Alec Soth

“When I’m in someone else’s house—what kind of books do they have? What are they reading? It’s just another way to try to glean who this person is. What’s going on inside of them? We only have so many clues. We see how people dress. We see their mannerisms. And an interior provides all of this other information.”

Motoyuki Daifu, Untitled, 2010–17, from the series Project Family
Courtesy the artist

Motoyuki Daifu

“I have a relationship to the space that no one else has. There’s something there that only I can photograph. I think maybe it’s better to take a place I know and get to know it better.”

Me: Can you share a story about yourself that goes with and beyond what the picture shows?

Jim Goldberg, Sharon D. Butts, San Francisco, California, 1979
Courtesy the artist/Magnum Photos

Jim Goldberg

“A lot of photographs are taken from the outside looking in. And I was interested in something else—letting people describe experiences in their own words, from the inside, with pictures that sometimes went with, and sometimes went against, what they were saying.”

Wendy Red Star, Long Horse, Sits in the Middle of the Land, and White Calf, 2017
Courtesy the artist

Wendy Red Star

“Even though I grew up in the community and on the reservation, this is how I’m learning more about my heritage. I’m patching pieces of our historical timeline back together as a way of archiving the culture and history of my people, which are not widely known.”

This text originally appeared in Eyes Open: 23 Photography Projects for Curious Kids (Aperture, 2021).