Book Review – The Practice of Contemplative Photography


If you are interested in seeing your world clearly, the book The Practice of Contemplative Photography provides an approach that is easily and effectively applied without having special prior training in either photography or contemplative practice.

Buddhist teachings may seem like a far-fetched approach to apply to photography, yet, Andy Karr and Michael Wood are able to make us realize how our mind both shapes and controls much of our awareness, understanding, and choices, but then just as well can also confuse those very same awareness and choices in many situations in our lives.

Whilst the Buddhist Way is a tool that enables us to explore a richer and more whole way of living in general, in the context of this book, the authors also draw on the long history and tradition of arts in the Buddhist teaching repertoire, and here we are shown a new and more liberated approach to image making.

In the end, we come away with a deeper understanding of our own photographic process, better pictures no matter the photographic domain of choice, and greater insight into the workings of our mind. The effects of contemplative photography will, no doubt, gratefully carry over into the remainder of our daily lives as well, and benefit not only ourselves, but also all and everyone else we come into contact with.

For those of us who have already had experience with some kind of contemplative practice but have slacked in consistency, reading this book may very well be the trigger to bring us back onto the path. For those of us who are new to and just exploring a life of mindfulness, it can solidify a practice and lead us into a greater life of insight and awareness.

GENTLY, WE ARE guided towards creating images devoid of showing what we imagined to see, expected to see, and without concern for technical skills and tricks. Not letting our seeing be influenced by the anticipation of an audience, judgment, or sales potential, we learn to let the image appear and be created without intellectual interference.

It is an automatic process of our mind, in the moment of perception, to place a label onto that perception. This instantaneously inhibits the continuity of pure perception of the world as it is in this moment. Furthermore, we see a sunset and immediately the photographic mind imagines some previously categorized labels, such as glowing-warm-orange, dramatic and sweeping wide-angle view, romantic. Thus, we end up re-creating some pre-existing label.

However, this book is about more than image making. Andy Karr and Michael Wood not only teach us photography without teaching camera work, they also teach us the Good Life without preaching right or wrong. Everyday is a good day, if we only allow ourselves to see mindfully.

wrapped hay bale

PRACTICE assignments for going out with camera in hand are provided in a sequential manner as travel, work, and move through the book. Specifically, these assignments guide our mind to connect directly with the visual world. The flash of perception becomes our glimpse of living life in the present moment. Colour, light, texture, shape, line, pattern, are what our visual world is, nothing more, and are the building blocks of contemplative photography.

Seeing mindfully can become an integral way of how we live our daily lives, and living our lives artistically will increase our appreciation of the world as it is. We are promised that, if we find the discipline to engage the practice of contemplative photography, though sometimes frustrating, the rewards and pleasing results will keep us going. Being unplugged from the external world of constant stimulus, we may actually find the opportunity to make friends with ourselves. “Solitude is the home of contemplative mind and the space where creativity flourishes.” Solitude can be found in any place if we have the state of mind for it. Exotic places, grandiose Nature scenes, “beauty”, and “photogenic” motives are concepts to free ourselves from in order to see the world as it is, and are not required to practice contemplative photography.

TECHNICAL skills are not the focus of this book; yet, the authors manage elegantly to include concise and easily understandable guidance for the camera novice. Shutter speed, aperture, focal length and distance, focus and depth of focus, automatic and manual settings are all covered with due measure and, in the spirit of contemplative photography, with appropriate simplicity. Basic camera technique, and skills of working with the camera are included. It is, though, kept to a bare minimum of description, and will neither overwhelm nor waste valuable pages of the book’s focus on the contemplative practice of the art.

In the appendix topics such as camera choice, post processing in the digital area, and post-“processing” the images mentally and emotionally are touched upon; all in keeping with the aim of creating a clear image of the original fresh perception.

Rock - Newfoundland Shore

PLENTY OF IMAGES by Miksang photographers accompany the text to give us visual examples for studying what contemplative photography looks like in actual picture form.

This practice, in its entirety, is very much about sensitizing our whole being to be more perceptive to life as it happens moment to moment. We become more in touch with the joy of seeing as one of life’s grand treasures.

For all of us, reading, and putting it into practice, can be an inspiration to today go out and see not only the world as we never saw it, but also finding ourselves in the process.

peter
www.crimsonbamboo.zenfolio.com

follow up on Are you creative


With Rifqui’s comment ( thank you kindly for bringing it up) on mind, maybe there are a plentitude of possible definitions of ‘creativity’. Is it about ‘what’ is creativity? Or a matter of degree; some people are more creative than others. If so, what is the measure of ‘more’ or ‘less’? Maybe it is concerning ourselves with a result that conforms to some specific pre-defined outcome, standard, who’s standard?
Let’s look at that early-morning wardrobe thing. Sure, it may not be new clothing, or clothing that you invented yourself, and we may have worn it many times before. When we consider, however, that specific morning, the specific mood we may be in, the weather, for a woman maybe the make-up she has or ran out of, and the many other variables in combination, we come up with new choices each day.
When does something move from being non-creative to being creative. Is there a line between, and if so where and how and who draws it? What is the difference between being creative and being inventive, as in creating something new. If Claude Monet, and Renoir, are considered the first impressionist painters, inventors of sorts and creative, how creative then do we consider all subsequent generations of impressionist painters.
And let ourselves not be misled to think creative must equal skillful! Doesn’t matter if you can’t photograph and print like Ansel Adams or Imogen Cunningham, or draw like Leonardo da Vinci, you can move a pencil across paper so you can draw. Even creatively as in inventive. Haphazardly scribble a bunch of wobbly circles and pretty much we can assume that there has never been an exact same scribble ever before. Is that creative as inventing something new? Absolutely. Is it creative as in skillful? Not necessarily. Is it creative as in a human being creating something? Absolutely. Do we like and admire and stand in awe of this drawing? Not likely but who cares, that exactly is what the point is not.

This is not to disregard actual work scenarios in which you are drawing, working, photographing, or inventing for a client or any other specific pre-determined purpose, after all, we got to make a living. Concerning yourself with the result-for-a-specific-purpose for whatever reason and intention is certainly a valid concern, though a whole other chapter not to do with ‘creativity’ in and of itself. Here I am rambling about the nature of the human condition being such that we can not but be creative, no matter how much we may tell ourselves we are not, and how that understanding may apply to and moves us, our minds, our actions, work, practices, and our awareness.

mizu wa mina   ne tatsuru yama no   fukasa kana    all sounds of streams   has faded   so deep the mountains  Haiku by Taneda Santooka (1882-19400, Japanese poet, photograph/ink-brush calligraphy in hentaigana script

mizu wa mina ne tatsuru yama no fukasa kana - all sounds of streams has faded so deep the mountains - Haiku by Taneda Santooka (1882-1940), Japanese poet, photograph/ink-brush calligraphy in hentaigana script

This awareness is, as I see it, the central idea around which creativity becomes manifest. It is the mindfulness, attention, conscious intent, even in the least of activities, that make the creative quality apparent and will, almost inescapably, lead to a richer experience. If practiced persistently, it can also become part of learning the skill component of the process, so we can put it to purposeful use, too, if desired.

Not to force and belabor a point construed, quite coincidentally just a few days ago, I came across another photographer’s mention of his father having taught him that any activity done with passion and pride was an art. Be it sports, painting or sculpture, running a business or being a parent. No matter what it is, when done with passion and conviction, it is art. Great father, I’d say.

So when you go out to photograph whatever you photograph, free yourself from seeing the final picture in advance. ( I’ll do another post, shortly, on why it is important to visualize the final image in advance – Ha !  go figure). Instead of going through the routines of our daily chores, photographing the same subject yet another time, or even when copying something that already exists, we may appreciate that this very moment, no matter how familiar it may feel, actually has never been before.
No matter how many times we have done something in the past, what we do in each and every moment is yet again anew.

It appears to me that shying away from defining creativity in specific terms leaves more room for actual experiences of it.

may your day be creatively mindful
peter
http://www.crimsonbamboo.zenfolio.com/

Looking or Seeing Images


10  October  2011

Image and Message

There are various approaches to assessing the merits of a photograph. One can look for  technical aspects, such as lighting and exposure, shutter speed chosen, sharpness versus blurriness, tonalities. Then there are artistic choices such as composition and framing, use of colour and monochrome, in printing the choice of papers and presentation. The choice of the subject photographed itself, can be made part of deciding on the merits of the final image; some people may consider a photograph of a socially important issue to be, by mere selection as the subject matter, to have inherently more value or importance than, say, a photograph of a natural landscape; others may decide vice versa.


As in so many areas of life, variable factors, circumstances, conditions, and timing determine case by case how to create, view, and relate to an image; rarely can we, even should we, use final and fixed statements about whether an image is good, great, or not worthy of consideration. It all depends and differentiation is a more appropriate approach when assessing a photograph, or art in general … and other people, for that matter, too!
Differentiation, for example, between images that are of journalistic and documentary nature,  intending to record and present our world as realistically as seen by the photographer; purely artistic purposes, abstract images, or those that show us that same world in a way we have not noticed before; private and personal work that may never be intended to be seen by anyone else. So many options for our creative work.
Then consider the countless and all valid reasons for doing what we do, even within each of the above mentioned types of image work:
we may create
– for our own satisfaction of creativity;  maybe we never intend the image to be seen by anyone else, but to satisfy our own growth as a human being, furthering our own creative process and learning;
– to understand our own life better; for example by observing ourselves, our emotions, hopes, desires, and anxieties, habits, during the process of creating, such as in the practice of contemplative photography ;
– possibly without even being interested in the final image, creating simply for the love of the process of working and experimenting with the gadgetry of camera work;
– for an audience  – to see what we saw   – to appreciate and show natural beauty or to understand a message we see or intend in the image, be it drawing attention to other people’s lives and circumstances; environmental messages; to change the world; encourage others to action, to think, to question;
– to receive approval for our own ego ( neither easy to acknowledge nor to get past … but maybe I am just talking of myself here … ), or to find approval for furthering our recognition as a photographer, artist, our business;

None of these are inherently better or more or less deserving or worthy than another. After all, who is to judge one’s fellow being’s creative process. What is valuable, however, is to become aware of our own intentions and purposes for being creative in a given way. Insights gleaned from such awareness can not only support and further our artistic path, but will naturally transfer to and inform all other areas of our daily lives to become more insightful and aware as well.
Here then are the questions: Does an image require a message? Does a photograph, in order to be a ‘great image’, need to convey a story? Does the viewer need an interpretation for or of an image in order to be moved by it?
Are there differences in the ‘value’ of images that depict a scene of Nature, a poor person in the street, or an abstract image of artistic merit? Can they each affect us deeply wether or not they tell a particular story or deliver a specific message?
Well, as for myself, I admit to rarely letting myself be pinned down to some final and one-size-fits-all definite statement … and this may give you a hint as to how I answer those questions for myself.
Might it be valuable to your own creative process, too, to become more clear about these questions ?

have a good camera day
peter

http://www.crimsonbamboo.zenfolio.com/