a photo study: developing your personal style – meditation

This week’s a photo study continues with Ted Forbes’ Master Class series, Developing your own Creative Style.  Last week’s blog reviewed and invited us to open ourselves to visualization by remaining in a selected location, without a camera.  Within the second episode, he defines meditation and then offers two exercises designed to increase our awareness of mediation within the creative process.

In the world of photography, mindfulness has been described as “meditative” or “contemplative” photography.

While out on a photo walk, my eyes scan the environment, searching for that something (shape, patterns, color, light/shadow, story) that draws my attention or for the perfect background scene.  As I move through my environment, my mind begins thinking about a photo article I read earlier or an image created by one of my favorite photographers.  I then consider the various camera settings and variations that may help me recreate an image or avoid repeating a past mistake.  For a moment or two, I ponder about what kind of image would be a great accompaniment with a particular haiku.  I begin composing and designing my next post which then invites me to slip into a fantasy about recognition and praise and then silence an inner smile as unease creeps in with, “Most likely your pictures will not be good enough” 

All of this invites me to question, “Am I really on a photo walk or am I engaged in a private screening of movies of my own making?”   This mindlessness chatter of thoughts, expectations, and desires are like dense clouds that prevent me from really being present with and seeing the world around me.  To see requires a meditative mind.

For some people meditation is shrouded in esoteric mystery.  Others understand it through images of a person sitting in the lotus position with eyes half-closed.  Others associate it with holiness and spirituality.  In its most general sense it is deciding exactly how to focus the mind for a period of time and then doing just that.

In theory, focusing the mind upon an object sounds very easy, but practice acquaints us with a mind that seems to have a will of its own as it drifts from one thought, image, conversation, or memory to other remembrances, conversations, concepts, and thoughts.  This internal stream goes on and on like a personal conversation with oneself or a perpetual story upon a movie screen…

…at the point when one realizes that the mind has traveled here and there, one is simply to note this to oneself and with acceptance gently return again to the meditative object…cited: A Meditative Journey, b c koeford

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Even though they may not specifically use the word “mindfulness,” many of the great masters talk about photography as awareness of the present moment in which we forget ourselves. We let go of the goals, desires, expectations, techniques, and anxieties that make up who we in order to more fully immerse ourselves into the experience of seeing. We open up our receptive awareness to what the world offers us…. We’re not looking for anything in particular. We’re not going anywhere in particular. We’re not expecting or trying to control anything in particular. Instead, we’re wandering, perhaps rather aimlessly, without a goal or purpose. We’re fully and naively open to the possibility of the unexpected, the unique, the moment when things come together… to the flow of life. Under these conditions, when we let go of the self, “it” appears to us. We don’t find and take the picture. The photograph finds us. It takes itself. We unite with the scene not so we can see a shot we want, but rather what the scene offers. The experience comes to us and the photograph is simply the icing on the cake. cited: http://truecenterpublishing.com/photopsy/mindfulness.htm

In photography, mindfulness is like observing something for the first time, even though you may have looked at it a thousand times before.

With an understanding of the importance of returning, again an again, our concentration to the moment, Ted Forbes invites us to

1.   Spend 30 minutes to an hour creating a still life.  

      • Use an ordinary everyday item
      • focus on that one object
      • exhaust all the possibilities
      • when you become aware that you mind has begun to wander then—with acceptance—just return to this still life project
      • ask yourself what am I not doing, what if I introduce motion? what would be different if I would do….? what would this look like  in different location—outdoors, on the floor, different table?
      • if it seems as though all possible angles, ideas, etc., have been exhausted, remain focused on the exercise for the rest of the time by jotting down thoughts and engaging in visualization. 

2.  Spend 30 minutes to an hour with a building or an outdoor space. — If you have chose a building that is in a public space and not a building that may arouse anxiety, a government building.

      • sit and explore ways to photograph.
      • just remember to keep returning to the exercise when you mind begins to wander.
      • exhaust all possibilities
      • use your journal to write down your ideas, frustrations, future projects.

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If you are interested in meditation within the street photography genre, I invite you to visit Keep the Focus website.  The Keep the Focus is a project initiated by German Street Photographer Thomas Ludwig who wants to bring the benefits of meditation techniques into street photography.  On the site he offers a free ebook. A Meditation Guide for Street Photographers

I enjoy reading your comments and viewing your creative work.  Thank you for sharing. Let’s tag with #aphotostudy.

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