3 min read

Image streaming

Last week I learned about 'image streaming', a technique that's supposed to improve visualisation ability. That tweet links to this explanation by a photographer who used it successfully, and the original source is here (yes I realise that website is pretty crankish, but these particular instructions are clear and straightforward).

The method is simple. Shut your eyes and start talking, out loud, about what you see, starting from any vague impressions you already have hanging around (if you don't feel like you have any at all, there's a list of back-up techniques for getting started, but I found this fairly easy to tap into). You're also advised to either record the stream (I use a voice recorder app on my phone) or narrate it to another person.

Importantly, you don't have to have a clear visual sense, you should keep going even if it feels a bit like you're just making it up:

Of that half of you who did get an image, some found a strong, clear, definite image or set of images, while others just got a glimpse, a faint impression which you might think was hardly worth describing, or weren't certain whether you were just making up the idea rather than seeing an image —

— Yet whatever you got, the key is to examine and describe it aloud, in as rich detail as possible even if you feel at first as if you are "forcing" it and "making up" some of it to fill your description to your external focus listener. More, though, and more, will come as you describe — be alert to this happening, and describe the new impressions when they come.

I'm glad he made this clear, because for me it does feel very like I'm just making up a verbal description, the actual visual component is very vague. On the other hand, I absolutely can tap into this stream. Once it gets started, it just keeps going on and on, shifting all the time, and the descriptions I give are extraordinarily specific and have lots of detail. E.g. if I try right now I get 'it's a grey pebble with a hole in it painted to look like a ring donut, so there's shocking pink icing on the top and sprinkles in pastel pink, yellow, green, blue, orange, and the icing has a wavy boundary that has been outlined with a thin line of black paint'... and then we're off, with a stream of Bakewell tarts, Orangina bottles and god knows what else. Even if I don't experience the stream as all that compellingly 'visual', it's very different to anything I normally pay attention to.

So far I've done four of these sessions, with a length of between 10 and 20 minutes each time (it goes fast!). A few other things I've noticed so far:

  • I mostly see objects. Plants and animals only appear occasionally, and humans basically never. On the other hand this stream cannot get enough of spatula handles, corded telephones, old radiators with chipped paint, woven cloth... it loves close-up textural details. At some point I'll experiment with steering the stream towards other subjects, but for now I'm just relaxing and enjoying the Mundane Household Objects Show.
  • A lot of the objects are specific ones I saw as a kid, either toys I had or things around the house. This seems to be pretty stable, because I did a similar experiment last year and ended up remembering a broken brooch that I'd completely forgotten about. This time I've remembered a lot more: games, ornaments, a necklace from a lucky dip, a tin of plastic beads, a finger trap, a disgusting dust-covered gummy caterpillar thing...
  • There are often tactile sensations too. I also imagine running my hand along the radiator or stretching the spiral telephone cord or whatever.
  • The stream changes rapidly, normally faster than I can narrate. It would be nice to learn how to keep the images around for longer.
  • After the first session I had an interesting experience where I 'couldn't turn it off again'. I was reading some stuff online and the stream kept bubbling up imagery that vaguely fitted the text. Not sure whether this would be useful or annoying if it ran all the time! It calmed down after half an hour or so and I didn't notice anything similar after the other three sessions.

I'm planning to do at least ten of these, as it's been pretty eye-opening (ha ha) so far.