The Eye is a Door

Landscape, Photography, and the Art of Discovery

To photograph mindfully is to look and think, to open a door between what can be seen directly and what is hidden and can only be imagined.

Beyond my own eye’s door are landscapes, the stories they tell, and the ideas they embody. I pass through that door and see: that the natural and the human are one, continuous not separate, landscape a mutual shaping of people and place and a form of language born out of living, a language with which to tell new stories and to envision how to adapt human settlements in life-sustaining ways.

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Pick up a camera and use it to see, think, and discover.

The Eye Is a Door begins a new conversation in a time of artistic volatility when media are being invented, redefined, and combined. Anne Whiston Spirn speaks to us in a unique and magical convergence of images and words seen from an entirely new perspective, and invites us to join the conversation. I promise you, it is not one to miss.” Will Steacy, photographer
“A series of clear essays and suites of superb aid to understanding and living intensely.” Laurie Olin, founder of OLIN
“Spirn shows readers how to make thinking with photographs a do-able, teachable skill. Everyone who works with photographs, no matter how experienced they are, will come away from the book with new ideas and sensitivities.” Howard S. Becker, author of Telling About Society

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Anne Whiston Spirn

Winner, International Cosmos Prize for “Contributions to the Harmonious Co-existence of Nature and Humankind”
Anne Whiston Spirn is professor of landscape architecture and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of award-winning books: The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design, The Language of Landscape, and Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field. For more information about her work and upcoming events, visit
“Over the past three decades, Anne Spirn has been the world’s preeminent educator, theorist, and public figure in the field of landscape architecture.” Alan Berger, author of Drosscape.
On The Language of Landscape
“Anne Whiston Spirn brings to her reading of landscapes the eye of an artist, the mind of a scholar, and the pen of a gifted writer. What she has produced is nothing less than a field guide for all those who share her belief that the language of landscape is among the richest and most meaningful that any of us can hope to understand. The result is a triumph. There are few books that have the power to change the way one sees the world. This is one of them.”
William Cronon, author of Nature’s Metropolis
The Eye Is a Door: Landscape Photographs by Anne Whiston Spirn
January 31 - August 31, 2014 | Smith College Museum of Art
The Eye is a Door is the first major exhibition to explore how Anne Whiston Spirn’s photographs promote a deeper understanding of the natural and built environment through the development of visual literacy. Spirn views photography as a tool that helps hone this ability by focusing attention on significant details in the landscape in order to discover the invisible. She has been on the forefront of the movement to make this kind of visual thinking a fundamental part of people’s daily lives.
The images in the exhibition capture stories and ideas embodied in places the artist has visited for her research, which range from the volcanic landscapes of Iceland to sacred Buddhist gardens in Japan.
The exhibit will travel to other venues after August 31, 2014. To bring the exhibit to your own museum or gallery, please contact Aprile Gallant