cognitive change &

moving mountains

Prior to this trip, I was reading about the power of awe and how it can be easily triggered in mountainous landscapes. It can also be triggered by something perceptually vast ⁠— something that goes beyond what you’re familiar with. These photos from Death Valley and Joshua Tree have prompted me to reflect on a time when I sought beauty and wonderment through travel to remote environments. I capture this feeling in my photography by playing visually with contrast in scale. Even when I'm not in nature, I try to experience awe by seeking out new perspectives from the people in my life. Unfortunately, our current situation has made both travel and in-person social interaction hard to come by. It has forced me to evolve my relationship with photography and with people, and is challenging me to find new ways to experience this feeling of awe...

photographer  YENNY HSIEH


“If we experience awe in a mountain setting for the first time, we have a hard time fully grasping this different thing…a lot is happening in our brains — a lot of cognitive effort and emotion, a lot of different activation…There’s a great deal of research into different emotions serving different evolutionary functions — what purpose would this emotion serve? Why do we feel this way? And a lot of research on awe has indicated that it changes the way we think.”


“Most of the time, the idea of changing how you think is scary and threatening.


But when you’re experiencing awe, it’s a positive feeling, and it reassures you that this is not a dangerous situation…when we’re feeling this way, our desire to create shoots up.”