What is Mindful Photography?
Mindful Photography is mindfulness applied to the process of creating a photograph. It starts with seeing and extends through the technical and compositional choices towards an encouragement to align one’s eye, one’s mind and one’s heart.There is a lot to unpack in that definition, so let’s start at the beginning. Where does the term Mindful Photography come from? If you enter the term into a popular search engine and review the sites that are presented you quickly come to a conclusion; it is being used by many people to mean different things. However, the general consensus is that Mindful Photography is the application of mindfulness to the art of photography and strong identification is made for its links with Buddhism. So let’s start there.
When one first explores the idea of applying mindfulness to using a camera, the practice of contemplative photography becomes relevant. The main evolution of the practice of contemplative photography seems to have been through Buddhism. Buddhism has a rich tradition of expressing wisdom and realisation through the arts and it seems that the Lama Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche may have been the first to have used his camera as an exploration into clear seeing. This history is explained by Michael Wood (the co-author of The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes) on his website. He explains Buddhism’s connection with clear seeing thus,“Buddhism is concerned with clear seeing because clear seeing is the ultimate antidote for confusion and ignorance. Attaining liberation from confusion and ignorance is Buddhism’s raison d’être. Clear seeing is a primary concern for the art of photography because clear seeing is the source of vivid, fresh images—photography’s raison d’être.”
Buddhism is not the only religious tradition to have seen the possibility of photography as contemplative, reflective tool. The book The Tao of Photography offers a Taoist approach, considering how photography and The Way can be mutually supportive. I have also read Christian based explorations. In The Little Book of Contemplative Photography Howard Zehr relates the Christian tradition of contemplation to clear seeing
with a camera. Does that sound familiar?
One thing that all these explanations have in common is that it is the process of clear seeing that is central to being at one with the present moment; to connecting with what you are experiencing. So when I practice Mindful Photography my first intention is to use what I see as my anchor. I walk, with my camera, observing the world. I am not looking for a photograph I am observing the visual panorama before me. Every time I notice that my mind has wandered into planning, reflecting or judging I come back to the seeing.
Then there will come a moment of visual stimulation, something will ‘catch my eye’. I stop and rest in that moment. I try to stay with what it was that stopped me, connecting to the visual nature of the scene.Finally, I receive the photograph. This is achieved by creating the equivalent of what I see with my camera. I consider where to place the rectangular frame. Maybe I move in or zoom in, or both. It is almost inevitable that during this final stage my clear seeing will be influenced by four barriers; photo thinking, excitement, conceptualisation and judgement. I notice these thoughts and return to the visual stimulation that first stopped me. Press the shutter and walk on.
How do we see clearly?
Those four barriers to clear seeing each have a lot to them. Let’s start with conceptualisation as that has the clearest link to the process of seeing. What our eye sees is just light. It is our mind that then makes sense of what we see. In micro seconds the mind assembles all that visual information and applies labels; colours, three dimensional depth, form, shape, pattern and texture are identified and the objects are named.
But our camera doesn’t see like that. It captures light, just a small rectangle (not the almost 180 degrees we see) in two dimensions. It does not know what it is seeing. So to ‘capture the equivalent’ of what stopped us in that moment of visual stimulation we need to see like a camera. Claude Monet explained this clearly.
“In order to see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at”
In forgetting the name, or label, we start to see the light. Is that easy? Oh no, it takes practice, lots of practice. In fact as Malcolm Gladwell suggested in Outliers in takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master of anything. This truth is fundamental to our development as Mindful Photographers particularly when we consider the photo thinking – the technical and compositional ideas that underpin successful photographs – that swirl about our mind when we are trying to see clearly.
I believe that Mindful Photography must also offer practices to follow that support our intention to remain with our clear seeing. As we develop as photographers, as we learn the technical and compositional context, there are techniques and practices we can follow that will help: wherever we are on that journey of 10,000 hours.
The Mindful Photographer
All of these practices and techniques have one thing in common; they support the alignment of our eye, our mind and our heart. They open an understanding of the holistic photography experience and of life. What are they? You will have to enrol on The Mindful Photographer to find out!The Mindful Photographer is a six week online course that explores what it means to be a mindful photographer. Each week I explore one aspect of the practice, offering resources, photos and assignments to support your development. The key element of the online course are the assignments, one for each week, which are submitted to a group online page. I offer supportive comments on every assignment photo and you can also see and comment on other students’ photos. Each course is live for three months and the next one starts Saturday 25th April 2015.
Mindful Photography embraces the whole of the process of creating a photograph and offers direct practices to support our development as both photographers and people; providing a mindful practice that reflects and supports all other mindful practices we follow in our life. It also improves our understanding of photography and expands how you see. You will never see the world in quite the same way again!
To sign up to my course please visit me at The Mindful Photographer