See it, snap a photo of it, look up its story

In doing so, you are sure to practice the value of Mahalo — appreciating those elements which make your life most precious to you.

You’ll also learn about a wealth of different things in the process.

Good morning Portland
Hayden Island river houses along the Columbia River in Northeast Portland

I’m getting reminded of this as I upload photos to Flickr which I’d taken on a recent trip to Portland, Oregon.

As part of my trip, a mixture of business and pleasure, I treated myself to a full three days of self-guided walking tours throughout the streets of downtown Portland, heading out any time the rain let up, with just camera and a pocketful of change for food and coffee stops   — and my raincoat, for it’s Portland after all, and spring seems to be quite elusive for that part of our country this year. Can you find me anywhere in the photos below?

Pink Blossoms at The Commons
Dogwood in bloom at the University of Portland up on The Bluff

Had a great time, a very relaxing few days wherein I could let my book-in-progress simmer for a while, enjoy some terrific meetups, and just relish being in new, comfortable, yet unfamiliar surroundings. I had not been to Portland before (or anywhere in Oregon for that matter). That held a ton of promise for me.

‘See it, snap it, and learn its story’ has become one of my favorite things to do ever since getting newly familiar with easy-peasy point-and-shoot digital photography about three years ago (no film to process!). Three years and 6,165 Flickr uploads ago as of this writing to be precise, not including the many experimental and lousy shots that never made the upload cut.

Though my Portland uploads have re-triggered my practice, causing me to stop and share this posting about it with you, this is something you can do while at home, at work or play, or anywhere: All you need to do, is carry a camera with you wherever you go — or just use that camera on your smartphone more than you have been doing up to now:

From days gone by

See it: Look at your surroundings more deliberately. Take extra time and really see it. Look closer at the detail, or back away for a bigger picture. Look down toward your feet. Look up above your head. If people are caught in your view and they catch you staring, just smile at them.

Snap it: Take a photo. Take a couple of them. Move the camera around” move you around. Indulge your natural curiosity about things, and focus on color, on lines and angles, on something quirky or unusual, or on a feeling, and the simple fact that you like what you see — or even that you feel emotionally interrupted by it in some way. Consider the interruption an awakening of your attentions.

Bike, brick, stoop and paint

Learn its story: This is where the internet has made new explorations so incredibly easy: Just search. See what you can find out about the subjects of your photos. Are there stories to be learned? I’ll bet there are, for everything has some kind of story, including those just waiting to burst out and happen. You might even stumble on a legend.

Bonus points: Share what you’ve learned in the spirit of Aloha and value of Mahalo, for it’s learning in what we can better appreciate about the fascinating, complex, and beautiful lives we’ve been given on this very precious and amazing planet of ours.

I like doing so on Flickr where my uploading can be tagged in the weird way my mind works to organize things, by making sure I add detailed descriptions when I have them, and photo-blogging within the helpful and very supportive community there. Unless there are people in the shot, I leave copyright permission open with Creative Commons so others can use the photos too. At other times I’ll add something on Ho‘ohana Aloha, my Tumblr, or here on the blog.

Civic Responsibility

The learning part is what always blows my mind. I knew very little about Portland when I arrived there, just prepping enough to get a general lay of the land (several unique districts within downtown alone” Old Town, Chinatown, The Pearl and South Park Blocks to name a few) and could choose good hotels. Otherwise, my ignorance was bliss; I wanted to be surprised and romanced by the place itself.

I’m sure I snapped a lot of photos that many native Portlanders wouldn’t have bothered with. I simply felt they looked charming or interesting in some way, and I would take my snaps knowing I could easily find out more about my subjects later.

Walled Garden detail

Pointing toward the sky

My web searches will then take me on incredible journeys — I returned from my trip ten days ago, and I’m only about halfway done with my uploads! What Flickr forces you to do, (not the site itself, just my own obsessive habits with using it) is label your photo in some way, so to start, my searching is prompted by the simple desire to put the right name on locations I have visited, and not be careless.

Here are just three of the stories I discovered:
The first tells the story of an train watchman turned urban artist back when The Pearl was a rail yard. The second explains how Ecotrust is a steward of the Reliable Prosperity Project, relating to something I find I am increasingly interested in: Eco-business practices. The third will point you to a video which (I personally hope) will inspire more renewal in the district Portland calls Chinatown, for despite its rich history, the place seemed to be stopped in limbo to me.

  1. The Lovejoy Columns: Project story (with more links). Be sure to look at this Flickr set too, with photos taken back in 2008 where the columns originally stood (my photos are at a relocation project).
  2. The Ecotrust Building: On Tumblr (with more links). At Flickr.
  3. The Hung Far Low Chinatown Neon: Video. Story at my Flickr photo.

When you click over to Flickr, clicking the project tag (right side of the page) for the photo you land on will help you see all the photos I have for that particular story.

A Lovejoy Column saved as modern art
One of two Lovejoy Columns relocated to the Elizabeth Tower

A Chinatown without the bustle just isn’t the same
Chinatown icons on NW 4th

Next time I go to Portland I’ll have a wealth of choices with spending my time there, now knowing so much more as I do! There are several buildings I would love to revisit, and see the inside of, timing my visits for when they are open. Loved using their TriMet transportation (even to the airport!) and will have to get more snaps of their Public Art.

Flickr, and my searches for more labeling info, is getting me to feel like I am visiting these places a second time now, and that when I return, for I definitely will, it will have more of a 3rd-time connection for me.

I will leave you with one more story which made me smile, about John’s Cafe: You can find two story links in the photo description there.

So your turn now: See it, snap a photo of it, look up its story. You’ll be so very glad you did.


  1. says

    Oh Rosa, isn’t taking photos just such a fabulous way to learn, and explore, and develop a sense of place? Thank you for those lovely examples and reminders.

    I’ve got two photography projects on the go as a way of settling in and learning more about the area we’ve moved to – one is photos in reflections – I’m intrigued by what we see in the upside down world! The other is photos of places with Gaelic place names (one of the languages used round here way back, though it died out pretty much by the 17th century) – I’m trying to get a bit more methodical about doing the look it up and learn its story bit for this one, rather than relying on more normal see it and snap it version ;-)

    Lovely to see you revelling in learning Rosa :-)

    (PS I’m linking to my new site, which has a big photographic dimension too… and a lot of sense of place… and lots of ideas first explored with you and others at JJL)

    • Rosa Say says

      Yes Joanna – yes, yes, and yes!

      I starred your recent Confident Writing posting in my RSS Reader earlier this morning: Could not resist taking a quick look at your new Art of Everyday Wonder site then, and had starred it to reorganize my reader later – I’ll soon need to have a folder there which is dedicated exclusively to your many journeys! Three cheers for website feeds :)

      Thank you so much for adding what you did in this comment: It just so happened that I was reorganizing my sets and collections in Flickr as you wrote this for me. I have abandoned caring about SEO and such a long time ago, and and am getting more learning-selfish (not the best wording, but a good, short description for now) about how I categorize things online, so that they better align with my attentions, intentions, and chosen projects. You, my dear Joanna, are a good mentor for me in that regard!