Dan Denardo on learning to see

Last fall I took suggestions for topics to dive into. One of the ideas was “Beauty vs. Ugly.” I decided to take it on and pretty quickly knew at least two people I wanted to talk to because of their perspectives. This is part 1 of 2. It’s an interview with Dan Denardo about looking just a little bit harder to find beauty.

If you want to listen to the unedited phone interview, here it is:

I recalled a post from Dan Denardo where he talked about how easy it is to miss beauty if you’re only looking for it in obvious places. Dan is a photographer, but his way of approaching life is something we all can learn from.

He had written about what choosing (or not choosing) to see the beauty around you.

From his post:

I would much rather discover beauty than have it handed to me on a platter. I don’t need overused clichés of beauty. I have seen the beaches of Thailand and the Caribbean, the rainforests of Brazil, the Swiss Alps, Venice, Rome, Nice, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the canals of The Netherlands, Mount McKinley and more. I loved them all, but if I didn’t see the more “pedestrian” beauty around me, I’d be missing an important and fulfilling part of life.

This is hard. It’s easy to get caught up in seeking the next adventure, the next shiny object, the next great thing that might be somewhere else.

But what about this moment? What about seeking the everyday beauty that might be playing hide and seek?

It’s about learning to see.

Hoar Frost Abstraction
Photo by Dan Denardo. Read the story behind it here.

And it’s something we need to train ourselves in.

I suspect that living here has made me a better seer. When I hear people criticize this area, it saddens me. Not because they’re badmouthing the area I’ve chosen to live, but because they are choosing not to see. They’re being lazy with a God-given gift. They are putting their brain in neutral. There is beauty here, they just don’t see it. It’s on a different measuring stick.

When we talked on the phone Dan told me that, “Yeah, I’m a photographer, but more specifically, I’m a seer.”

One of the ways that his being a seer plays out is in simple things.

It’s goofy things too. I look up toward the sky more than other people do so I see things up in trees or I see cloud formations. I just make the effort unconsciously to do that stuff when other people don’t.

"Seedless" - Such a fun deconstruction.
Photo by Dan Denardo. “Seedless” – Such a fun deconstruction.

So is this something that can be learned?

Dan says that it’s a muscle you have to train. You can give yourself assignments that will push you to grow in your ability to see:

  • shoot things of a certain color
  • shoot things and shapes that spell out your name
  • shoot things that could mean something else
  • shoot things in a certain genre, like the 4 “r’s” – Rust, Ruin, Ramshackle & Rubble

One lesson: Obvious beauty and beauty that you have to seek out can be equally fulfilling (consider the Grand Canyon versus a desert flower.

It’s really about a passion for seeing and you might be surprised when the work you most want to share is your personal projects (over commercial ones).

My sense is that people who do it have always done it, and people who don’t do it have never done it.

Such a great story behind this one too.
Photo by Dan Denardo. Such a great story behind this one too.

I was also curious about Dan’s process for his personal projects. Here’s how they generally happen for him:

You can give yourself assignments, but for me I do it almost unconsciously. They just kind of bubble up. If I have something that bubbles up to the surface and I want to make it an assignment, I write it down and then I make a roadmap to help me get it done. And nine times out of 10 I do get them done.


  1. Notice ideas that bubbles up
  2. If one sticks out, write it down
  3. Make a roadmap for completing it
  4. Do it
Read the post here.
Photo by Dan Denardo. Read the post here.

Just for repetition,

If I have an idea I write it down. And then I turn it into a goal, and then I go off in pursuit of the goal.

I, for one, aim to train my seeing muscle with a little more intention.


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