What Does Meditation Practice Have to do With Photography Anyway?

What Does Meditation Practice Have to do With Photography Anyway?

Last week I attended an intense two and half day Buddhist practice. Practice begins each morning at 5:00 am. There is a 3 hour break in the middle of the day and then practice resumes again at 3:00 pm and ends at about 6:30 or 7:00 pm.

On the first day we practice until about noon, then, lunch is served. Lunch on the first day is precious because it is the last meal eaten until about 7:30 am on the third day. Also, after leaving the table, one may drink only clear fluids until going to bed.

On the second day, there is no eating, no drinking fluids, no talking. This practice is physically grueling because there is the added dimension of preforming many, many prostrations during this two-day period.

I actually love this practice. It seems quite insane but I do. Aside from the spiritual or religious significance of the practice, the opportunity to become inwardly focused for a day or two is refreshing.

But what does meditation practice have to do with photography anyway?

The question should really be what does meditation practice have to do with “professional” photography or “fine art” photography or “documentary” photography anyway?

A meditation practice such as the one I went through last week requires a high level of commitment to see through to the end. That may seem like a statement of the obvious, nevertheless, how else do you get through 36 hours of rigorous physical and mental activity sans food or water without commitment? I am not pointing this out to say that I am special in any way, just that you have to decide at the outset that you will complete the task, no matter what.

It gets tough. And, when it does you will be tempted to quit.

So it goes with professional photography. You know, you are living your dream and “doin your thang” and then a major snafu comes along and the question will be, Are you committed? If so, How much or to what end? Well, we’ve talked about commitment before in other posts so I won’t go on about that topic.

Beyond all that, photography can be meditative practice.

These days with cell phone cameras, digital cameras and the like it is very easy to be snap happy. I, of course, say that with love! I am guilty as charged. I think my cell phone might explode I’ve taken so many pictures on it.

But if you use photography to slow down and really look – you will actually see the world how it is.

So before clicking the shutter next time, take a long, deep breath. I mean, really breathe. Feel the air going into your nose and out again. Close your eyes if you have to and visualize the image you want to capture in your mind. Now, reframe in the viewfinder, zoom with your feet, step left, step right and….

CLiCk!

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Roll Out the Red Carpet!!!

Roll Out the Red Carpet!!!

Well, I have never won an award in my life! So what an honor it is to be nominated for the Sunshine Award by Judy Lesko!

As I understand it this award has been created by bloggers to honor fellow bloggers whose blogging inspires them to create and continue to be positive!

I’ve tried to trace the origin of this award but it seems to be a spontaneous quantum blog event with no readily traceable beginning!

Sunshine Award origins aside, there  a few steps one must take upon being nominated to accept this respected blogger award. (I’d rather call them steps because “rules” sounds so stuffy! Really who likes rules?)

Step 1:  Include the award “logo” in a post or on you blog. 

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Step 2: Include a link to the blog or website of the person who nominated you.

You should definitely visit Judy Lesko’s blog. She has got some great photos, interesting tidbits of inspiration and an all around wholesome blog.

Oh!!

As an aside last week it was raining, raining, raining everyday! Finally we had a day of sunshine and while riding in my husband’s convertible I snapped this brilliant image of the blue sky and sunshine:

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Step 3: Nominate 10 Bloggers for the Sunshine Award.

The benefit here is that we all get to expand our blogging network and find new inspiration in the words and images of others.

Here are my 10. They are not in any particular order:

  1. Charlotte Hoather, Soprano     http://wp.me/P3eBSx-1
  2. SEABLUEDREAMING         http://wp.me/2KV5q
  3. Pursuit of Life                            http://wp.me/2Rynq
  4. The 50 Year Project                   http://wp.me/1f8Oz
  5. just after words                           http://wp.me/10NRV
  6. The Lantern Room                   http://wp.me/1vGHs
  7. BunnyandPorkBelly                  http://wp.me/p2ilAR-BH
  8. The Dimwit Diary                    http://wp.me/p2u1GJ-1br
  9. NOMADICLES                       http://wp.me/p2m6If-q6
  10. posts from the path                   http://wp.me/p3gDYp-eT

Step 4: Answer 10 questions about yourself. And don’t forget to provide your nominees with 10 questions to answer as well!

1. What is the stupidest thing you have ever done?

 As a young person I did a lot of stupid things. I can’t say any one thing in particular was more stupid than the other. I always say: If I knew then what I knew now, I’d ____. At the same time, the follies of youth are those very same things that make us the people we are in the future. So, if I had the opportunity to go back in time maybe I’d do things differently, maybe I wouldn’t.

2. If your house burned down, which three things would you save?

 I have 5 cats and 2 dogs. So I’d want to save every single one of them first. Then if there was time I’d save my computer box…I have well over 20,000 images on it. And if my cameras were home at the time…I’d have to save those. I’d just have to.

3. What would you say to a dead loved one, if you had the chance?

I love you.

4. What is the worst nightmare you have ever had?

Once I dreamed that giant bees with stingers were chasing me. I was flailing my arms about and I literally fell out of bed onto the floor. I was screaming so loud that I awoke my dog and he was ready to kill whatever was after me. It was summer and we had the windows open. I probably awoke the whole neighborhood too.

These days, in the middle of a dream, as strange as it may seem, I am often able to recognize that I am in a dream. Occasionally, I have strange or disturbing dreams but being able to recognize that I am dreaming helps me to kind of sit back and enjoy it like a movie.

5. If you could talk to a famous person (dead or alive), who would it be and what would you say?

A couple of summers ago, I had the opportunity to intern at a non-profit photography gallery and arts education center as part of the completion of my MFA degree.

I think the most valuable lesson I learned there was that famous people are people too. They put their pants on one leg at a time. So I am not star struck so much any more because I did get to meet many photographers who are really big in this industry. At first it was like “whoa” I am meeting such and so but then I got to know them and see these are real people with real lives.

So in a nutshell I’d just want the opportunity to get to know someone who’s considered famous. Maybe we’d have common interests and maybe not!

6. What is the most beautiful place you have ever been?

Home, after a longtime away.

7. If you had one day to do whatever you wanted (without caring about money) what would you do?

I would hop on a plane with my cameras in hand and fly to New Zealand. I have wanted to go there for sometime now. But it’d be a trip that lasts longer than one day!!!

8. What is the best thing that has ever happened to you?

 Hands down, it’s meeting my husband. He is such an inspiration for me. He keeps me going and grounded.

9. Who or what has affected your life the most?

Again, I think it’s my husband. I think we make a great team in life. Second to that, I would say my pets challenge me to stay compassionate and loving as well.

10. Why do you have a blog?

I started blogging because I wanted to share my love of photography as a medium and mode of communication. I also wanted a way to keep myself accountable to creating work.

Here are my questions for you nominees:

  1.  What’s the best advice you received?
  2. If you had to choose an animal that best represents you, what would it be? And Why?
  3. What is important for you in life, love or money?
  4. Do you have a nickname?
  5. What inspires you?
  6. What’s your favorite beverage?
  7. What’s your favorite season?
  8. What do you like to do on your days off?
  9. What is your dream job?
  10. Why do you blog?

Step 5: Share the news of the Sunshine Award with your nominees!

Make sure you have linked your nominees blogs to your post. Drop by their blog and post a comment with a link to your Sunshine Award.

Well, that. was. fun! Whew!

I am really just pleased as punch that I have been nominated. It’s like the Academy Awards of Blogging! Simply think of me decending the stairs from the podium. Please feel free to give a round of applause. I am waving my best wave and smiling.

Thank you. Thank you very much!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape, Background

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape, Background

This week you are getting a two-fer (is that a real word??)!  I didn’t get to post last week but I had a post all planned out in my mind and then time just got away from me!

I really loved the theme of escape. And then this week the topic of background was equally intriguing. So I figured why not combine them into one! Who says you cannot take the rules and adapt them to your purposes??

So, let’s get to the meat of it!

I am a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner. That probably doesn’t mean a lot to you other than the Buddhist part – this likely evokes images in your mind of a perfectly blissful individual meditating and escaping worldly ills and troubles. It also likely evokes images of exotic lands and people not folks who live in a relatively small city in Upstate New York!

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend a teaching at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra located in Woodstock, NY. This monastery and Buddhist shrine is the North American home of my lineage’s spiritual leader.

Since I have been in graduate school for the last 4 or so years, I have not been as engaged in my “on the cushion” practice of meditation as I would like to be. So my attendance at teachings and ceremonies has often been like an escape or a mini-vacation.

Certainly there are elements of Buddhist practice that can be perceived to be like that, however, the reality is that spiritual practice, of any kind, is not about escape but rather spiritual practice is about being in touch wholly and sometimes even painfully with reality.

Spiritual practice, in general, and Buddhist practice in particular should bring you closer to what it means to be human. Hmmm, and what does it mean to be human? It means that we all experience suffering and have a desire to ultimately be free from this suffering.

And whether we are “on the cushion” or “in the pew” our practice should be something that engages our whole being creating positive effects upon us and those around us. At the grocery store. At the music concert. At the dinner table. Doing dishes. Doing the laundry.

Our practice is our life. Our life is our practice.

I wanted to share a few photographs from my weekend at the monastery. An escape of sorts but really more of a return. Please Enjoy!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern

I have a treat for you all for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge!

First a song:

 

Then:

I live in Albany NY. This is a city found by Dutch settlers in the 1700’s. So each year the city remembers its Dutch heritage with a weekend celebration called the Tulip Festival. There’s the traditional Dutch Street Cleaning Ceremony, a Tulip Court and Queen, Coronation of the Queen and a Grand Ball. For us common folk, there are food stands, music bands, family events and such in the park.

Of course, being a Dutch city in the heart of America, there are Tulips! The city gardener plans a year in advance how Washington Park’s Gardens will look.  All over the city tulips bloom in all varieties of colors.  The park becomes a nature photographer’s dream in the early spring when the tulips rear their heads for a short few weeks. The Tulip Festival is a celebration of life, community and the spirit of this city affectionately called “SmAlbany”.

Flowers as a photographic subject are a bit trite. Regardless, it is fun to go back them each year at this time because flowers, especially tulips, do remain as one of nature’s truly sublime elements. Everyone can appreciate a flower’s beauty! Photographing flowers offers an opportunity to return to an unfettered state of simply looking. You know what they say….You have to stop and smell the roses and in this case it’s tulips!

Everyone appreciates flowers and their spring Patterns:

Happy Spring!!

 

Keep Going!

Keep Going!

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Prayer flags on my front porch, photo taken April 22, 2013 Panasonic Lumix 20mm, ©Pilar Arthur-Snead & Photographic Expressions 2013

Several years ago I worked as a subscription sales rep for a local newspaper company. Basically my job consisted of cold calling people for 8 hours a day and trying to get them to buy a newspaper subscription over the phone.  I had a weekly sales quota to sell 15 subscriptions every week, come hell or high water.  This may not seem like a lot but in order to sell 15 sold subscriptions I needed to make anywhere from 500 to 1000 calls per week, sometimes more, sometimes less.

The guy who had had the job before me was fudging the books, or so I had come to believe, because when I would call people to follow-up on payment for the subscriptions he had supposedly sold, they would be adamant that they had never agreed to such terms. This happened over and over again. I made it a point to try to get payment from people right when they agreed to purchase the paper. And I felt that solid sales were coming in as a result of my efforts. But weekly, I would miss the goal and sell 13 subscriptions not 15. Hmmm-mmmm.

My boss was pretty hard driving and that is putting it mildly. She accused me of being a slacker. When I suggested to my boss that perhaps the person before me had not been honest about their numbers she did not believe me, in fact, this only made her berate me more. The girl who sat in the cubicle next to me was often sick, complaining of headaches and nausea. I often would go to the bathroom and sit in a stall quietly and try to meditate for two minutes just to get away from this woman. She would follow me in there sometimes. It was awful.

One day, before getting ready to go on vacation, was particularly bad. I had sold 13 subscriptions (or something like that) but it was 4:00 pm and the office closed promptly at 5:00, no exceptions.  One way I would get leads to call was through the paper and so I thought I would utilize some of my last hour combing the paper for leads so that the next day and only day I was in the office the following week I could hit the ground running. This did not fly. Every five minutes, my boss kept coming out of her office asking why I was not on the phones. I tried to explain that I was getting prepared for next week so I could get some good sales in before going on vacation. She was screaming at me before long.

She had not known that earlier in the day I had been on the phone to my mother, that’s right I called my mommie, and was telling her how miserable I was.  I had only been with this company for six months and I didn’t want to just throw in the towel. I thought maybe I’d find a way to get those two other subscriptions.

My mom’s advice, however, “Quit!” This went against everything she had ever taught me but this woman was making my life hell over the cost of two newspapers. I was beginning to feel physically ill all the time as well. I wasn’t sleeping, dreading, each week’s beginning (having to make the phone calls) and end (knowing I had made thousands of calls and come up short, again). So as my boss’ voice began to escalate I began to calmly pack my things. I walked out. Your mother isn’t going to tell you to quit unless she thinks you have a really, really good reason for it…namely your sanity and health!!

Fast Forward. In September 2012, I left my job of corporate fundraiser, legitimately and with a little more panache than I left my newspaper position. For the first time in my life, I was pursuing the “job” of my dreams. I was finally, after 3 years of planning and growing, pursuing a life long dream of photographing on a full time basis. I really had to pinch myself quite a bit!!

This year has been exciting because my business has been growing. I have been receiving calls for work on a regular basis. I couldn’t be happier! At the same time, I have had more problems than ever. Lost memory cards, lost files, blurry images, bad prints and lots of seemingly little things that for a photographer are pretty big things!!!

But let’s just say, I am certainly feeling the pangs of growth here. I am also feeling a slight twinge of panic but its not so much concern about whether I have made the right choice in pursuing photography as a career choice. It’s more like I know I’ve made the right choice but will my blunders be my undoing at such an early stage? Will I fail so badly that I will simply not succeed in spite of myself?? Thinking about these mistakes made me think of my experience at the newspaper for some reason. I suppose I am feeling a similar fight or flight response.

It was not all bad at the newspaper; I did get one lesson out of my time there. Every now again in the course of a business day I would go to my boss and say, “Hey I made xyz number of phone calls and sold xy number of subscriptions.” Her response was always the same, “Really, well, Keep Going!” She never said great job, even when on the rare occasions I would meet or exceed the quota. I have never forgotten that.

I have reminded myself on many occasions since to just

“Keep Going!”

Sometimes quitting is an option but most of time when you have a lot of skin in the game it just doesn’t make sense.

Mistakes happen. If you are making mistakes you are making progress. If your making mistakes, you are in action, you are moving. If you are making mistakes, you are taking risks.

Someone once said, it may have been the famous cosmetics guru and entrepreneur, Mary Kay Ash, who said, “Fail Forward to Success”.  If you are making mistakes, you’re not failing; you’re succeeding. And your success (or lack thereof) is not defined by your mistakes but rather by the tenacity you have in getting through them.  Mistakes build character and they also help you to build better systems.

Get out there, make some mistakes and for goodness sake:

KEEP GOING!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change!

One thing remains the same…all things change, with time.

Morning sun changes to night.

Seasons Change. Winter tuns to Spring.

One leaf dies but another takes its place.

Fires burn hot and turn to ember.

We can not know what change will bring for good or for bad.  Only time will tell.

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Morning Sun, © Pilar Arthur-Snead and Photographic Expressions 2013
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Evening, © Pilar Arthur-Snead and Photographic Expressions 2013

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Winter’s Death, © Pilar Arthur-Snead and Photographic Expressions 2013
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Dog’s Delight: Spring Returns, © Pilar Arthur-Snead and Photographic Expressions 2013

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First Fire Pit of the Spring/Summer Season, © Pilar Arthur-Snead and Photographic Expressions 2013
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Rust, Oxidization, © Pilar Arthur-Snead and Photographic Expressions 2013

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Only time will tell. © Pilar Arthur-Snead and Photographic Expressions 2013
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Psychic Paper, © Pilar Arthur- Snead and Photographic Expressions 2013
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Paint Chips, © Pilar Arthur-Snead and Photographic Expressions 2013
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Time flies when you’re having fun. © Pilar Arthur-Snead and Photographic Expression 2013

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Day is done. Almost gone, the sun. © Pilar Arthur-Snead and Photographic Expressions 2013

5 Photographers I Like and Why

5 Photographers I Like and Why

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2009, State Capital Building, Albany NY, © Photographic Expressions and Pilar Arthur-Snead

Minor White

Minor White
Minor White, Frosted Window 1961, Photo From Luminous Lint, http://www.luminous-lint.com

Minor White’s work has been called poetic. He himself has been called a photographic sage. I would tend to agree. White comes from the modernist tradition of photography but he along with Aaron Siskind,  and to a degree, Alfred Stieglitz with his Equivalents series, sought to push photography past its depictive nature and use photography as a means to transcend the simple act of seeing.

Aaron Siskind

Aaron Siskind
Stephen Daiter Gallery, Aaron Siskind, Chicago 1960 | Gelatin silver print | 13.5 x 16.5 in. 1960s print. Signed, titled and dated in on mount recto and verso.

Siskind’s work is concise –viewing it is almost like getting hit in the head with a stick. When I first started taking pictures, I remember finding his work and being in awe of the way he could morph an object into something so beautifully abstract.

Alex Webb

Alex Webb, Magnum Photos, this image is copyrighted to the artist.

Alex does with color and documentary photography what Siskind and White did with black and white. He has a way of just getting to the heart of the matter. I had the pleasure of taking a workshop with Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb at The Center for Photography at Woodstock in the Summer of 2011 during hurricane Sandy. They were gracious enough to continue to hold the seminar with “impending doom” lurking round the corner and they are both truly as great in spirit and kindness as their work.

Renee Cox

Renee Cox, From the Series American Family. This image plays off the famous painting by Edouard Manet called Olympia.

Ms. Cox, in my humble opinion, is a pioneer in challenging cultural norms specifically as they relate to the black female body. Her images directly address stereotypes and conceivably pre-subscribed roles of black women in western society. I find her work to be engaging, edgy, if not controversial, but also connected to photographic and art history.

 

Edouard Manet (1832-1883), Olympia, 1863, Oil on canvas, H. 130; W. 190 cm, Held at Musee D’Orsay

Jemima Stehli

Stephen Daiter Gallery, Jemima Stehli, Strip No. 1, Writer 1999 | Chromogenic print | 17.25 x 10.5 in. , Set of 9 C-Type photographs mounted onto aluminum. 1999 prints. Each print it signed, titled, dated, numbered, and edition 4/5 by artist on mount verso.

Stehli’s work often challenges gender and power roles. She  confronts the way in which power plays out between men and women by playing with who has control over image creation and who has control over self-expression. Her work is more in the vein of performance with the photographs standing as evidence of the performance and how it unfolded.