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!

The Mundane Life

The Mundane Life

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“Neighborly” note left on my doorstep yesterday. Life gave me lemons, so I made art..

I watch a lot of artist talks and documentaries about famous photographers, their work and their methods. Specifically, TED Talks are interesting and easily accessible to everyone. These mini talks given by a wide variety of world leaders, artists, and image-makers are, more often than not, inspiring!

Watching these talks and documentaries helps me to understand what qualities make a ‘great’ photograph and what others think makes a ‘great’ photographer. Frequently, I agree, so and so is a ‘great’ photographer. Watching and listen to other artists and photographers speak about their work also allows me the opportunity to define, and redefine my own photographic work.

An equally important benefit is the clarity of mind that develops; the vaguely unsettling, intuitive sense that while I may find another photographer’s images fascinating and astoundingly brilliant, my own photographic interests, desires, and needs photographically speaking are expressly different.

Recently while watching a whole series of TED Talks organized exclusively around image-makers the thing that struck me was how far away the photographers and speakers went to “get” and “tell” story. It occurred to me, and not for the first time, that while Afghanistan, Brazil, Mt. Everest and all such places are beautiful and eternally photogenic they are ‘great’ because they are exotic. The stories of people and places that we don’t know halfway across the world will always hold our interest because they are stories about people halfway across the world that we don’t know. How could you possibly go to Africa or Thailand or any place other than home, for that matter, and not get at least one decent photograph? How could you go anywhere but home and not have a story to tell? Isn’t that part of why we travel?

Conversely, it seems to me the mundane stuff of life presents a wide variety of opportunities to be ‘great’ and produce ‘great’ stories and photographs.  A great photograph or series of photographs are not just visually appealing but are images that compel us to want to know more about what we are looking at.

I believe the things with which we are intimately familiar are the fixings to and foundations upon which to build great images.  And I also believe the material of our life provides an opportunity to be more mindful, tuned in, and grounded in our experience.  It’s a way to hopefully find appreciation for own circumstance by focusing on it entirely.

Days With My Father is an intimate journal created by photographer Philip Toledano. It’s an example of how photography can be used to document personal circumstances.

 A PHOTO CHALLENGE

My challenge to you is to create a short series of images (3, 5, or 10 images or anything in between) utilizing the substance of your life.  I will select and spotlight someone’s series here on my blog! I will be looking for solid composition, good use of other visual elements and a pretty tightly wound short photographic story.  We call this a visual narrative. It doesn’t have to be profound just your story!

You may use any kind of camera you have available to you to create this series of images – your cell phone, your point and shoot or your DSLR – whatever works.

Please submit the link to your series in the comments section. The due date for submissions is July 16. The “winner” will have their images featured on during the following week July 22 – 26.

I really can’t wait to see what you come up with!!

In the meantime, I will post my own series next week. So, ‘til next time

CLiCk!