Seeing Red and Green – Photography as Metaphor

Red and Green

Seeing Red and Green © 2011 Bo Mackison

The title of this post is a bit of a puzzler.

Sure, the leaf is green with red veins. Seeing red, seeing green.

But the phrase “seeing red” has a common meaning. I checked with an online, viewer-written dictionary, and this was an accurate summary of the word and its derivation:

The etymology of the word refers to bullfighting. It is well-known that a matador uses a red cape to engage with and then infuriate a bull. When the bull gets agitated, it charges the matador, but it tends to aim for the cape and not the man. “Seeing red” refers to this situation of being so angry, your anger controls you and causes you to feel enraged.

This photo is a good visual reminder for me when I am struggling with angry feelings.

I do not want to ignore my anger, but I don’t want anger to control my actions either. I needed a ritual to help me through difficult moments.

This is what I came up with:

When I look at the green leaf, I visualize “seeing green” which I associate with feeling calm and in control. There are lines of red through the green, acknowledging my “seeing red” feelings, but most of the photograph reinforces the “green” calming.

I imagine my anger as that central red spot (hot spot) in the photo.

Then I visualize my anger flowing through the cool green, and the anger becomes cooler and less intense. It flows away from that hot spot and I imagine my anger dropping off the edge of the photo.

I also discovered a quote — one of those “oh, so true” quotes — to help remind me of the good that comes from staying calm when I feel anything but calm.

If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape one hundred days of sorrow. ~Chinese proverb

And deep, cleansing breaths are always a great way to relax and shake off too much tension.

I found that the combination of distraction, visualization, using the quote, and deep breathing to be helpful when I want to move from “seeing red” to “feeling green.”

I am discovering that some photographs have a deeper meaning than that which is first seen.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Love this Bo!! The picture n ur metaphor for it is really so intriguing. Would love to sit with it when im feeling overwhelmed.

  2. Yes! I love using photos to work through feelings or to help develop budding ideas. And your photos are so rich and beautiful!

    I love the look of you blog, it’s gorgeous!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Thank you, Kimberley. I love taking photos to work with specific ideas, but I also love the serendipity of “found” photos when I look at my photo later.

  3. The true gift of a photographer is to see the world–in your case nature–as a metaphor. Today it is about anger, tomorrow it may be about flooding yourself with strength–also the red in the green of a placid world. Whatever you translate from nature to making a stronger “Bo” is a worthy work. Nicely done and great quotes!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Oh yes. And what I see in a one photo as a metaphor for me is not what a viewer may see. It’s a mind opening concept to work with.

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