Twelve Photos

Would you like to take part in a monthly photo project? All you’ll need is a camera and a Facebook account. It’s just for fun and for the pleasure of having a monthly photo challenge.

I will be posting one word a month that you will then represent in a photograph. There are no rules. Whatever the word suggests to you visually is OK. All you have to do is post the photo each month to the Facebook Group page Twelve Photos.

Feel free to share the group with your friends. Let’s get social! The word for January is Beginning

Looking forward to seeing your photos.

What’s going on?

Both of these photos were taken last week. My feeling is that the photo is more powerful than the word, for the words that have been written about global warming are not changing anything.

In the UK over the last 4 months we have had weather that is close to extreme. In September and October we had very warm days, very little rain and plenty of glorious sunshine. Halloween was the warmest on record in the UK , with several towns in the south recording temperatures above 20°C.

But never mind the UK. September was the warmest global September on record and according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seven of the first nine months of the year have broken global records.

And there is no let up! On 2nd November Aberystwyth in Wales was the warmest place in the UK in November ever, at 22.4°C. And this month December is on course to break similar records.

So when Taylor and I went out to Oxwich Point yesterday it was hardly a surprise to see this woman striding across the rocks on her way for a dip in the sea. The air and sea temperature are currently similar. Yesterday it was 14°C, we even sat outside for a post surf cuppa.

The headline photo was taken two days ago in one of our local parks. All over the park there are spring like shoots poking through and in parts of the south of the UK blossom is out. Will we get some proper cold winter weather? It looks unlikely, based upon the year so far.

So, spread the word. Share your photos of Spring in Winter. Let’s get the UK talking global warming.

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Surfing Santas

Yesterday Surfing Santas took to the waves for a competition run by Llangennith-based WSF Surf School and Langland Bay Riders Surf Club in aid of Wales Air Ambulance and Waves for Water charity.

I braved the horizontal and torrential rain to collect a few photos at Langland: bringing Christmas to the Gower waves.

 

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Cameras that sense your emotions

Intuitive cameras?

Would you like a camera that senses what you are photographing? A camera that knew how you felt when pressing the shutter? A camera that used all of this information to adjust the colours, tones, exposure and contrast to take account of your intentions and record a photograph that best invoked your feelings?

Nikon imagine that you will. Earlier this year they published a report based upon current life and social trends that predicts our future photography habits and needs. 

 ‘As far as people continue to be emotional our aim or our goal is to help people to capture their emotional moments and support them from an image capturing perspective. There is no limit to capturing intuitive images.’ Tad Nakayama, Corporate Vice President of Nikon

 

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Take a look at this imaginary camera screen display from Nikon. Notice how the camera ‘detects’ what the scene is of, including location and weather, the subjects in the scene, who the photographer is and how they are feeling (heart rate). Whilst I can imagine that some of this could be pre-programmed choices, much as we can currently choose the type of scene we are shooting and choose the relevant mode on our settings, other information (heart rate) indicates some form of personal monitoring.

I understand that Nikon are targeting the mass market with these predictions, not the enthusiasts and professionals, but I do find it all a little sad and that they are missing a fundamental truth.

Conveying emotion in a photo

The fundamental truth I feel Nikon are missing is that what we choose to photograph and how we choose to create that photograph is a melding of the intuitive and the learnt. These choices reflect our inner world (see post Inner world – outer photos). Those magic moments when what we have learnt and understand about our camera, its capabilities and limitations, are held so gently that we instinctively make choices in the moment that connect to a deeper place in our soul. This is the art of photography. The true magic.

This experience was beautifully described by Eugen Herigel in his book ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’, where we can imagine replacing the bow with a camera and the art of archery with the art of photography.

 “Art becomes ‘artless’, shooting becomes not shooting……the teacher becomes pupil again, the Master a beginner, the end a beginning and the beginning perfection”

The header photo of this post was chosen as it represents how I was feeling when I created the photo. The beauty of this, is that whilst I had an intention in that process, you might see or feel something else. Our experiences and feelings associated with colour, shape, light etc may be similar, but they are also personal. So what I feel my photo conveys might be different to how it makes you feel. This feels like a gift to me. Each photograph offers the gift of opportunity. Opportunity to experience  your feelings and that, my friend, is enough for me.

I believe that this concept is at the heart of mindful photography – photography that connects us to our feelings – and it is a key part of my online course, The Mindful Photographer. The third course in the series is titled Feeling and explores this terrain in detail. It considers how mindfulness can support us to connect with our feelings and then explores how photography can be used to represent our thoughts feelings and emotions.

If this sounds interesting you can find out more by enrolling on the FREE introduction course. You never know you may well be an intuitive expert by the time Nikon finally develop their magic camera!

 

 

 

Seeing the Music 2

Here’s a mindful photography practice that uses music as its inspiration. You don’t need to think too much, just respond intuitively as the music washes over you.

[1] Plan an album length walk.

[2] Choose an album to match your mood/weather/walk/whatever.

[3] Walk.

[4] Respond to the music intuitively. Let it play through you. Create photos that reflect how the music makes you feel.

[5] Edit photos whilst listening to same album.

[6] Share your favourites.

Here are my photos from a recent Seeing the Music practice I did whilst listening to Bless the Weather by John Martyn. The title seem to fit both my mood, circumstances and our recent weather (in an ironic manner!). I chose the blue tinged B&W to match the vibe.

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That time of year

There are many activities that are associated with this time of year, from Christmas shopping, through prepping the main meal, to the office party. One that you might find interesting is a review document of this year that supports you to look in detail at the challenges, successes and much more of the departing year; before beginning a plan for how you would like the next year to go.

The document I have used to do this is shared (for free) by the e-course expert Susannah Conway. It is called Unravelling and it is a downloadable PDF that you can then print and take to your favourite coffee shop and work your way through, whilst keeping yourself fueled.

I usually complete it over a couple of sessions, doing the review of the old year one day, before beginning the hopeful intention/planning stage for 2016. It is certainly a more thoughtful process than the end of year resolutions that last until 4th January! But it is a thorough and mindful process. Be prepared for some soul searching.

 

 

Technical Challenge

I recently won 2 tickets to see Guy Garvey in one of those innumerable subscription email draws. After I adjusted to the surprise that these things did actually lead to a real prize arrangements were made.

The key photography decision was what camera to take. After the recent events in Paris I expected security to be rigorous and that taking the DSLR in might not be possible. I opted to take my Canon G7X, a high end compact with a 1″ sensor. This would be better than my mobile phone camera which really struggles in low light situations.

Once Guy started I took a few test shots to see how the camera performed in the light. I was about 10 metres or more from the stage and the camera has a limited zoom, so holding it high to avoid all those heads in front was a must. I had the camera set up on an average aperture (f4 is equivalent to a mid range setting on this camera) and the ISO on auto, so that I didn’t have to worry about shutter speed. Despite all the stage lighting I was getting ISO ratings at the top end 6400 – 12,800, so I knew that there would be a lot of digital noise in the photos.

The camera struggled to focus sometimes and the split-second shutter lag often meant that getting the shot I was trying for was hit and miss. Generally I watched for the light and the more successful photos are the first two below, where the lighting situation created interest.

I converted all the chosen photos into black and white to handle the digital noise. Generally there were few other adjustments, apart from to remove objects that distracted from the photo’s object (Mr Garvey!).

Creating photos where the conditions and camera impose limitations is a stimulating exercise. In fact, imposing limitations where there are none can often result in the most original and inspired photos. I have used wide apertures, set shutter speeds and de-focus to limit how I can create photos. The practice is invigorating!

What do you think of the photos? The gig was excellent. Guy Garvey’s new album ‘Courting the squall’ is diverse and multi-layered, with trademark poetic lyrics. Give it a go.

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Alec Soth exhibition

If you should find yourself in London between now and March 2016 I recommend that you visit the Alec Soth Gathered Leaves exhibition in the Media Space at the Science Museum.

This is the first major UK exhibition from this award winning American photographer and surveys a decade of Soth’s work, highlighting his career as one of the world’s top photographers. The exhibition includes four of his signature series, including the UK première of his recent project Songbook.

I particularly found his Broken Manual series inspiring. Soth explores what it is to desire to run away, survive and look into who we are. His work documents several men living unsupported in the wilder parts of America and is melancholic and moving.

The exhibition has a refreshing attitude to photography. You are encouraged to take photographs of the photos and share. The photo above illustrates my desire to capture the relationship between photo and viewer; present, engaged and inspired.

 

Inner world – outer photos

“I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between the two worlds – the one inside of us and the one outside of us. As a result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.”

Cartier-Bresson ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952

Theory

What we choose to photograph. How we chose to photograph. These are the choices that reflect our inner world. This happens even if we don’t plan every creative decision. Every photo we create is an element of us; a small part, an instance. Maybe a disposable moment. Maybe a decisive moment. But each is a moment that reflects our conscious and sub conscious thoughts.

Sometimes we set out with an intention. We chose a location, time, place, a circumstance, to tell a story. How we tell that story reflects part of who we are. No two photographers at the same place and time will take exactly the same photographs. There will always elements of our experience, our self in the photo.

Sometimes we set out with an intention to create one type of photo, but because of our inner world experiences another type of photo emerges. When this happens we may be disappointed by our deflected intention. Later we may recognise that what we created was a contemplation of our experience in the moment. A personal story of how the world was for us in that moment.

Practice

Yesterday, I walked back along Swansea Bay promenade from Mumbles, with my hound Monty. It is a flat 3 mile walk along a bike path and beach and I decided to practice Mindful Photography. I didn’t have any clear intention, but I imagined that I would just be present with the visual stimulation and create photographs of what caught my eye.

I had my compact camera with me that also has full manual features. I mention this because the photos I created made full use of the manual settings. I found that nothing caught my eye. I was immersed in my thoughts. What emerged was a response to those thoughts, a desire to create something that reflected how I felt.

Of course what I was experiencing emotionally may not be what you experience when you look at these photos. That is both the beauty and challenge of photography. But I offer them anyway, without title or explanation. Simply a reflection of my inner world at a particular moment.

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UK Government gets mindful

What do you imagine would happen if the UK Government got interested in the application of Mindfulness? You no longer have to wonder. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness has just published its findings and presented them at the Palace of Westminster.

This is an historic moment. Not yet widely reported, I picked up on it after a friend sent me this link to a report in the Huffington Post. After reading the article I thought I had better do a little background research, not that I doubt the press, but the Huffington Post can be a little left field!

Mindful Nation UK is a report 2 years in the making that has just been published by the Mindfulness All Part Parliamentary Group (MAPPG). It has been supported by the Mindfulness Initiative, who appear to have involved many of the great and the good in the UK and beyond, in their organisation and the process. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Ruby Wax are their patrons.

The executive summary of the report (first few pages) is worth a read and in a wide ranging set of recommendations they have considered the application of Mindfulness in the National Health Service, education, the workplace and the Prison Service.

This is a fascinating and heartening development. We wait to see how the realities of implementing the recommendations in a current culture of reducing public spending pan out. As an eternal optimist I can imagine that the advocates of the report will highlight not only the potential for positive outcomes, but how those outcomes may save the government money.

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Learning Mindfulness

It struck me that there may be some of you out there who may be curious about mindfulness and interested in learning more. So I thought I would share a few links to useful resources.

BeMindful.com offers an online course in developing mindfulness. This looks interesting and helpful. It costs £60 or $95 and can be done at any time, anywhere. I believe that you can start it for free, to see if it is for you, before committing to payment.

Other online courses are available. Perhaps one of the best known for meditation is Headspace, which also is available as an app and encourages you to meditate regularly at a time to suit you.

If you prefer face to face learning and are based in the UK then BeMindful.co.uk provide a search facility to find a Mindfulness teacher near you.

There are a wide range of links and resources available at the online magazine Mindful.org. The link here will take you to a collection for those just starting out

Alternatively if you are interested in the roots of Mindfulness then an understanding and enquiry into the Buddhist Dharma might be of interest. There are many online resources available. A simple internet search will reveal resources shared by individual teachers, teaching centres and many more. One of the largest resources is at Dhama Seed. A wide variety of teachers and talks are available for free, donations are encouraged.

Alternatively, you may prefer to visit a centre near you. There are many across the UK, USA and Canada. Again an internet search will reveal those in your country.

 

What do I know?

The more I know, the less I understand

The more I understand, the less I know

This phrase came to me last night when I was meditating at the end of men’s group. Undoubtedly its appearance in my consciousness was influenced by our conversation. Now, I can’t tell you what that was – what happens in men’s group, stays in men’s group! – but I thought I would reflect a little on this two line thought.

In the last five months I have been writing blog posts that explore a little of my experience of living through a health crisis. I took the decision to write honestly and share personal photos, partly because it just felt the right thing to do and partly because I had to change something. I’m not sure I knew that then, or even that I know it now, but it feels like it might be a truth

And that’s the thing. When you start being more honest with yourself and sharing, it changes the world around you, which then changes you. Once the door is open, and you’ve taken a step outside, there is no closing it.

The most interesting thing that has changed are my relationships and friendships with men in my life. Not only has a men’s group started in this period, but my friendships with men have changed. Once I started talking about how I felt and sharing some of my vulnerability it gave my friends permission to do the same. Then once they were through the door and in the same space as me our relationship started to change.

I am not sure I want to completely understand what and why it has happened. It is enough to know that it has happened. The benefit is shared. And that benefit is a snowball rolling downhill.

This week

This week I have spent three days on my own, with the occasional company of men. I have been writing and editing content for The Mindful Photographer – hopefully ready for a January re-launch. I have also been filming short videos as part of the courses’ content. This is an unexpected benefit of my recent minor operations on my throat: my voice is reasonably strong and breathing stable.

I am aware that I am doing this, not just because I can, but also because I may not be able to in the future. The proposed future major operation to open my trachea further will improve my breathing and therefore reduce risk. However, it will lead to reduction in vocal capacity. Filming videos now captures a version of me that may not exist in the future.

Then any video or photograph we create does that. Each moment exists but fleetingly. We rarely reflect upon that truth. It’s a little scary, a reminder of our mortality. Perhaps that’s why I am exploring my experiences openly and honestly. I am more connected to my mortality. More aware that the game has changed. As Carl Jung said, “We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning”. Recognising that and making changes is the challenge and the opportunity.

That much I know. Or maybe not!

Are you feeling it?

Photos have the power to convey emotion. The way we choose to compose the scene and the technical choices we make can combine with the content to represent a feeling, through visual metaphor or symbolism.

Sometimes this is deliberately created at the moment of pressing the shutter. Sometimes it reveals itself later; maybe a happy accident or subconscious guidance. Either way it is a powerful way of communicating with the viewer.

The truth is in the viewing. Of course the emotion or feeling that the photographer intends to convey may not be what the viewer experiences. Cultural background and personal experiences guide our interpretation of visual imagery. That there may be several interpretations is not necessarily a weakness of the photo. Inspiring diverse emotions from one photo may be a strength.

Let’s look at some examples from a recent walk around Langland Bay. Notice the feelings that these photos generate for you before you read the text below.

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Photo 1 suggests uncertainty for me. Through a shallow depth of field I have created the representation of an unclear future, we cannot see where the path may lead. Though if we consider the truth of the scene, we know that Monty can see the way forward.

Photo 2 is in a similar vein to Photo 1. There is a degree of uncertainty and also potential barriers to what is unseen

Photo 3 suggests positive possibility (blue sky, sunshine), but also change (the autumnal leaves). For me these elements combine to imply change, opportunity and a hopeful future outcome.

Photo 4 uses a strong symbol to suggest that there is a clear direction we need to go. However the indistinct background could imply that the journey’s experiences may be uncertain.

What feelings did the photos inspire for you? Post your thoughts below in the comments box.

All the gear: no idea

If I am honest the thought that a different or ‘better’ item of photography gear will improve my photography is never far from my mind. Do you have the same experience? Or are you happy with your camera and lenses? I have over the last couple of months been thinking about changing some or all of my camera gear and I have also reflected on how this change can be a positive experience that will help improve my photography.

The key question we must answer when making changes to our camera and equipment is, ‘Why are we making the change?’ If the answer is because that new item is brighter, shinier, better, quicker, sharper or cooler then that change may not be necessary. In fact we may have a full on version of GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

However if the answer is that we have closely looked at the photography we do and that there are some items we do not use, and others that would support our ability to create photographs that we desire to create, then the change may be a wise one.

Motivation

The question that we are really considering is, ‘What is our motivation?’ My motivation to change equipment was born of a desire to make my equipment lighter, less obstrusive and I did like the look of the Fuji X-T1 and its range of high quality lenses! It is a fabulously cool, retro and quality bit of kit, but would it support my development as a photographer?

I started listing my existing equipment – a Canon 5D mkii, various Canon primes lenses (most the professional L lenses) and one or two old manual lenses (like the Takumar Pentax 135mm above). I then trawled through ebay looking for the prices that this equipment might garner and arrived at a total potential value. This then I used to calculate which lenses I could afford to accompany my new shiny XT-1 and created a desirous list.

Fortunately, I then caught myself wrapped up in this gear acquisition mode and spent a little time thinking about why and what would really make the difference to my photography? This thought was fueled by misplacing one of the Canon prime lenses. I could not find my 35mm f1.4 anywhere and is its value was around £650+ this was a significant dent in my budget.

At the same time I received an email from Eric Kim, Street photographer guru, which shared a fabulous ebook. This resource triggered a realisation that as street photography was one of my motivations for photography creation I should first consider the equipment I had and what I could use now. This thought then broadened into a deeper consideration of the type of photos I choose to create now and how I see that developing.

Conclusions

I came to the following conclusions:

  • I use a light, high quality lens with a focal length similar to our eyes’ focal length a lot (Canon 50mm f1.4)
  • This lens, whilst ideal as a walkabout lens for my general mindful photography practice, was a little large and obtrusive for street photography.
  • My 35mm f1.4 (if I could find it) would also be a suitable focal length for street photography, but it is even larger and heavier than the 50mm.
  • I would benefit from a small, pancake type lens of a similar focal length for street photography. This would be less obtrusive and lighter to carry around.
  • In trying to find my 35mm I reviewed my stored photos in Lightroom and did a search to reveal when I last used the lens. I hadn’t used it for over a year and then only sparingly.
  • My other interest is to develop my landscape photography. I have a 20mm wide angle lens that I use for this but if I sold the 35mm was there something that could cover a range of wide angle focal lengths that I might use more and would be great quality?

Fortunately, buried under a load of boxes and equipment I found the 35mm. I researched pancake lenses and found that Canon made a highly regarded 40mm and that it was only around £120. If I sold the 35mm and the 20mm I would have enough to buy the 40mm and the new 16-35mm f4 lens for my landscape photography interests. Keeping with the Canon 5D mkii (for now!) would also provide higher resolution photographs than the Fuji X-T1.

Finally, I had reached a conclusion that supported my creative photography intentions and at zero net cost. The process had been a helpful one, that’s why I’m sharing it now! Sure it’s OK to desire new equipment, after all that’s what the advertising is encouraging us to feel. But noticing that in us and then reviewing what we like to take photos of and considering what would support our future development as photographers, that is a mindful practice.

Every cloud has a silver lining

Often I create photographs to illustrate my posts. The idea for this post though was inspired by the panoramic photo below. It is a composite photo of Caswell Bay Beach which, if you click on the photo below, you can experience at full size.

The title of this post and its theme leapt into my conscious mind whilst I was editing the photo: a literal example of the proverb that is the title of this post. The meaning of the proverb, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ is an encouragement to remember that every seemingly bad situation has a good aspect to it.

I thought that it would be interesting to reflect on this proverb from the perspective of mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy and to relate this to my own experience.

Judging Mind

The proverb is an encouragement to look on the positive side of every situation. This could be seen to be helpful, but it implies that the truth is that there are ‘bad’ and ‘good’ situations, events and happenings in our lives. From a Buddhist perspective this would be an example of the judging mind in action.

The judging mind is a quality of mind that has certainty and rigidity at its core. It is a quality that imagines that we know how things are and that we are attached to our likes and dislikes. As a consequence when something happens that we do not like we judge the situation as ‘bad’.

In traditional Buddhist terms the judging mind is a manifestation of one of the three intoxicants; aversion, attachment or ignorance. This means that beneath our judgement of the situation as ‘bad’ we are either keen to not experience the situation, or we are attached to the idea of it being different, or we do not understand what is happening.

The judging mind is something we can notice arising when we meditate or take photographs. In meditation we sit, follow the breath and our mind continues to experience thoughts, sensations and feelings. We may simply judge this experience as a ‘bad’ meditation and that when our mind is quieter as a ‘good’ meditation. Alternatively, we may get caught up in one particular thought and notice that it is a replay of a recent experience and that we are judging how we acted or spoke.

In photography the most common manifestation of our judging mind is when we review our photos. Whilst a constructively critical approach is essential to skills development, a strong judgement that photos are ‘good or bad’ may discourage experimentation, limit creativity and hold back the learning process.

A judging mind is a small mind, closely attached to our smallest self. It reinforces the idea of separation, that we are different. Meditation and mindfulness are the opposite of this. They encourage the development of non judging attention; that we notice what we are experiencing, the thoughts, sensations and feelings but that we do so in a forgiving manner. We hold our experience with compassion. We experience our world with loving kindness and equanimity.

Real world

Of course this is great in theory. It is an ongoing practice. My current experience is that a long term chronic health condition, plus recent acute attacks, has provided rich ground for practice. Sure I get caught up in my personal experience. It sends ripples through every aspect of my life. I do get attached to beliefs that my interpretation of situations is correct and this then leads to judgement, difficulty and disharmony with those who do not share my perspective.

Mindfulness provides me with the opportunity to sit quietly and notice the thoughts and feelings that arise attached to these experiences. It provides the space for compassion to flourish. Within this practice is the possibility of not judging, of noticing, not reacting, but holding the experience with loving kindness. It is challenging and I remind myself that compassion starts for my own reactions, my own judging mind.

I know that these reactions are patterns of thought that have been repeated and reinforced over many years. Mindfulness provides me with the opportunity to notice and to remember that there is another way. It is a practice, a practice for a lifetime.

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The Autobiographical Self

We have a strong sense that we are who we are. This is reinforced and explained by a series of ‘I am’ statements. I am Lee Aspland. I am 54 years old, I am a photographer. I am a husband, father, son, brother etc. Each statement provides further clarity and determination that we are an entity, that somewhere inside of us resides a self. An independent human being, separate and distinct from every other human being.

But as you take a closer look at those statements you will note that each one of them is subject to change. Through the passage of time each one of our ‘I am’ statements can dissolve. Our notion of who we are is created over time by place, circumstance and events. It is created and reinforced by memory to become this thing that is described as the ‘autobiographical self’

“What we sense as a “self” emerges from stimuli both from within and without our body through complex levels of neural integration. The integration of memory and self is not a one-time occurrence but involves lifelong development. The autobiography of self is the accumulated unique mental narrative that emerges from our experiencing and participating in the flow of events and interpersonal encounters that reach a level of awareness critically facilitated by emotional tone. Autobiographical memory plays an important role in the construction of personal identity. An individual’s construction of themselves through time serves the function of creating a coherent and largely favorable view of their present selves and circumstances.”
Barton J Blinder MD PhD

Me, selfies and the self

I created the photo in this post to represent this idea of an autobiographical self. Each individual photo represents me at a different age and in a different role. Attached to each photo is also a memory. Each memory is both reinforced and created by the photo. I may remember the time and place of the photograph, or I may have memories attached to that time and place, or I may only have memories of the photo itself, its existence freezing a self that no longer exists.

This process where we create our identity is reinforced by time. We imagine a strong web linking each moment from our lives, each event and circumstance further defining this notion of ourselves. Photography plays a key role in this process. Each portrait captures forever a momentary self. Each photograph supporting the memory and creating a narrative of our lives.

But the reality is that each moment is gone. The person I was 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago is longer who I am now. Each moment is transitory, each aspect of our self is already fading as we think of it.

The idea that the self is a product of our consciousness, our mind, constantly created, adjusted and developed is one that is well explained by neurological theory. And yet we don’t want to let go of this notion of who we are: this individual self. And why should we?

The answer to that question underpins our raison d’être – our reason for being and fuels our interest in who we are and why we are here. It is the stuff of life and has been the motivation to explore the idea that the self is an illusion. If that is something that intrigues you there are a couple of resources below you might find of interest.

Interesting talk

Here is a link to an interesting talk by Leela Sarti that explores several of these themes. It is has a Buddhist philosophical perspective, but is very much rooted in our current world and life. The talk can be listened to on the website or downloaded and replaying at your leisure

The Illusion of Self, Equanimity and Beyond the Abyss

Two overviews of the Illusion of Self

A blog post by Sam Harris: Interview with Bruce Hood author of Self Illusion

A personal reclamation of the self by Steve Taylor

Scenes from a London hospital

I have recently spent a few days at Charing Cross Hospital, as part of my ongoing care and investigation into my laryngeal condition. The stay was unplanned and helped to allieviate an acute situation.

Having not planned to stay I was unprepared. Fortunately Beci was able to gather suitable, clothing, food and some reading material for me. But I was without camera.

I have never been impressed by the camera on my mobile phone, but the best camera is the one you have with you! I also found it enlivening to push the boundaries of what was possible with the Sony Xperia phone camera.

Using the manual features of software and careful technique, particularly for longer exposures, I was able to create a few evocative and abstract photos I really liked.

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Rhythms of Life

Life is full of rhythms. From the seasonal to the physical. External to internal. We live through many processes. Some of these rhythms are slow changing yet immutable, like the seasons. Others are triggered by events or actions and play out in a cycle.

Often we are so immersed in our happenings that we are not conscious of the role a rhythm is playing in our life. Mindfulness provides us with the opportunity to observe life. To slow, to breathe and maybe even to stop. Then in our moment of stillness we may feel, see, notice what is playing out.

When we meditate we observe what is arising in our consciousness. We may use the breath to attempt to slow and anchor the mind, and occasionally we may experience a moment or longer when we are simply noticing what arises. The thoughts (always the thoughts), the sensations and we can just be with this practice.

This is helpful practice that can influence how we go about our day. At least I hope it is! I meditate with the aspiration that the practice seeps into my everyday living; that I become more aware of what is happening, how I am being. Perhaps then, I will feel the rhythms that are carrying me along.

This is a thought that I have entertained this week as I have noticed the seasonal change towards autumn. This awareness has also caused me to reflect upon the physical, emotional and habitual rhythms that are part of my current experience. Not that I have reached any epoch making conclusions. It feels enough to be slightly more aware of some of what is playing out. And just like meditating, this present moment awareness is transitory.

However, the glimpse provides a play of light over elements that are sometimes in the shadows. This clarity of vision maybe momentary, but at least I know it is there and available.

Paignton – a mindful photography practice

I lived in Paignton between the ages 11 and 16. It was the early 70s. In fact I have just created a 70s playlist to accompany me as I write this piece. I am currently with The Eagles ‘Take it easy’; Neil Young, The Steve Miller Band, Bob Dylan, Supertramp, Thin Lizzy and the Vapours are all on their way!

So when I visited earlier this week there was a nostalgic video of teenage high (and low) lights playing in my head. In fact, many of the memories of actual events were also jumbled up with memories of more recent dreams of the streets, parks and areas of Paignton I frequented. This fragmented video track was stimulated by my route through the town and down to the seafront. Of course it all appeared a lot smaller than it used to be and a lot less busy.

I parked at the back of the town centre park, close to where I recall the library used to be. As a kid I visited this many times and still check out books in my dreams. But the library was long gone, in place was a new development of retirement flats. I wandered on through the park, remembering the shortcut to the seafront I used to whizz through on my bike. This was all much as it used to be, but with an absence of ducks.

My summer memories of Paignton seafront are of a beach and lawned area rammed with grockles (tourists). Often there was hardly a patch of grass or sand to be had by lunch time. This time I wandered through and found it busy, but with plenty of space. Once down on the front I found the photography flowed. I felt comfortable, at home amongst familiar scenes, and I believe that the photos below carry some of that warmth, as well as a curiosity to capture the British tourist at play.

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Gratitude Practice

It is easy when beset by difficulty to lose sight of the positive aspects of our lives. A darker mindset may squeeze out the light from these often simple but uplifting corners of our day. I have for several months been reflecting on my day and identifying the things that I am grateful for. In past times our forebears called this counting your blessings, the phraseology may differ, but the intention remains.

At the end of each day, before you drift off into your night time routine spend a few moments reflecting on those aspects of your day that you are grateful for. These may be of any size, from a special event to a smile from a stranger. They might be quite simple, such as the way light fell upon a stream, or quite momentous, as one of your children exceeds their own expectations. Each night, reflect upon your day noting those moments that your are grateful for.

Lately, I have been following this practice in a more structured and sharing manner. Every night I reflect and identify 5 things from the day that I am grateful for. I then email those things to my sister in Canada. Kim, then at the end of her day (breakfast time for me!) sends me her 5 gratitudes. Not only are we getting positive vibes from our days but we are maintaining contact and involvement in each other’s lives, something that neither of us usually score top marks for!

Those of you who are interested in neuroplasticity, the science that investigates how our activities and behaviours can shape the formation and development of our mind, might be interested in this practice from its potential to change a negative perspective to a more positive one, in a gentle and progressive manner. I can’t speak for the certainty of this, but on a personal level, I do find it a supportive and affirmative way to end each day. Why not give it a go with someone who you love, but perhaps don’t see as much as you would like?

The Science

Here’s an interesting link to the science of gratitude from the University of California, Berkeley

Letting Go

This is the seventh in a series of posts exploring the 7 attitudes that underpin mindfulness practice. The 7 attitudes are detailed in Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and are Non Judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Acceptance, Non Striving, and Letting Go. Each article will be a personal reflection about that attitude, both from the perspective of mindfulness generally and mindful photography particularly. Each will be tagged ‘7 attitudes’ so that you can find them all using the tag search in the blog’s right hand column.

The photos that illustrate this article are all aspects of my photography work that I have had to let go.

 

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Mindfulness courses and articles frequently encourage us to ‘let go’ of a habit, thought or feeling. Often the concept of letting go may be presented as something that is clearly understood and instinctive. If I am honest I have always struggled to both to understand and action the concept. I understand it in terms of stopping doing something, but to let go of a thought or feeling always felt like trying move water with just my hands: I understood what needed to be done, but couldn’t find a way to achieve it. I was becalmed by its apparent bewitching simplicity and distanced by the confidence of advocates who proclaimed, “Just let go!”

After having lived through some challenging times, whilst still continuing to practice and study mindfulness, I feel a little closer to the reality of ‘letting go’. Perhaps my reflections upon this may help you. I hope so.

I believe that letting go is an observation, a paying attention to ourselves and in particular our mind. It is recognising a pattern of behaviour, thinking or feeling, noting it and feeling where it resonates in your body. Breathing into this place and staying with the feeling, really connecting with the physical sensations bring us out of our mind and hopefully it may slowly begin to dissipate. This is not easy. It may take just one paragraph to explain, but it may take one or two lifetimes to achieve! It is, of course a practice.

Let’s take an example to illustrate what I mean. After an argument with a loved one we often feel great anger and imagine conversations we could have with our partner that would explain how we feel and ‘win’ the issue at the heart of the dispute. So, how do we ‘let go’ of the anger, of the need to win that imaginary argument that we keep playing in our mind?

Step 1: Recognise

Notice the thought/feeling/behaviour like you would an old friend or acquaintance. Smile with recognition, you know who this is. They are no threat, but they do like you to be a certain way that you would like to change.

Step 2: Breathe

Feel where you can experience how this is making you feel in your body. Check out the chest, stomach and throat. Maybe you have a particular area of your body that resonates. Notice the body sensations. Stay close to the physical. The palpitations, the fluttering, the ache. Whatever it is stay with it.

Step 3: Patience

Give yourself time. Be patient with your body and mind. This will change. Keep breathing, keep with the physical. Slowly, in time you will notice that the thought/feeling has faded.

Letting go is not easy. On one level each letting go is like a little death. Perhaps we cling to our behaviour/thought/feeling because we believe that its presence means that we are who we are. By ‘letting go’ of it we would be letting go of a part of us. We resist the release in much the same way as we resist change, each step bringing us closer to death. Perhaps ‘letting go’ is also like pruning, each time we work at changing ourselves, at releasing an unwanted thought or feeling, we prepare the way for future growth and for bounteous fruit!

 

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As applied to photography

There are two ways I see ‘letting go’ applied to photography. These are 1. in terms of the thoughts and feelings we have about our own work and 2. In the moment of creating a photograph.

1. You, the photographer.

Just as we have thoughts and feeling about any one of our life interests or endeavours, we have thoughts and feelings about our role as a photographer. These may extend from not even thinking of ourselves as ‘a photographer’ to being critical about every photo that we create. Our ways of being extend into our role as photographers. They have to. For if we are to take great photographs then we must allow ourselves to become personally involved. Our photographs must share something of our emotional connection to what we are seeing and photographing. Otherwise they are just like anybody else’s photos.

As photographers we experience uncertainty and doubt about our work and ability, but we also experience certainty and clarity. Much of the time we may waver between the two. We are learning and developing our craft. Such thoughts are part of the journey. It may help us along the way to both soften and let go of these thoughts and feelings if we are able to apply to same 3 step practice as I have explained earlier. Recognising our own critical voice, noticing where we feel this in the body and resting with those feelings as they slowly dissipate will help us to become more accepting and adventurous photographers.

2. The decisive moment

The final and most decisive element of ‘letting go’ as a photographer is in the moment you release the shutter. In that moment I aspire to be at one with what I see, for my camera to be an extension of my body and for the moment of release to be an intuitive coming together of technical knowledge, compositional skills and emotional connection, where nothing is thought and everything is felt. Easy huh? Now I need to go practice!