Change

This week I have chosen to reflect on change as I have been both buffeted by the winds of change and I am also making changes to key aspects of my life.

It is not coincidental that I used a weather metaphor to describe change. As I started to write this I was considering what simile I could use to compare to change. I decided upon the weather. It may be that you live in apart of the world where the weather is generally settled and predictable. Just for the sake of my simile imagine you live in the UK!

Why is change like the weather?

  • It is reasonably predictable and yet we sometimes unaware of how it actually is. (Just this week I have noticed people wearing shorts and t shirts, because it was warm last week. Whilst it has been sunny this week, it was often cooler than 10°c)
  • We often know what weather is coming, but we choose to ignore the warning signs and carry on regardless
  • Sometimes it transforms so gradually over a few days that it is only when we are at the end point that we realise it has altered
  • Sometimes it is entirely unexpected and may throw our plans and lives into disarray
  • Sometimes it is just like the previous day, sometimes it is quite different. Sometimes it is just like the previous day, but we feel different about it
  • Some weather we perceive to be ‘good’, other weather ‘bad’. ‘Bad’ weather may be essential. ‘Good’ weather may lead to drought. Our perception and understanding of what we are experiencing can itself change
  • Above all there is a lot of it. It is a constant. We know that it will always be there, but we let that fact slip through our knowing sometimes

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Change, mindfulness and photography

As you know I have embraced the idea that photography can be practised mindfully. And whilst I am currently sharing some of those practices via The Mindful Photographer I am also continuing to develop the concept.

This development has recently become more charged. What I mean is that the change in my life has made me realise (finally) that I need to embrace mindfulness in every aspect of my life. My relationships, my work and my play.

My recent health crisis was one of those life events that was predictable. I have a chronic health condition (swollen trachea and vocal chords) that affects my breathing and voice. What is most challenging is when I carry on regardless (of the weather!) and have an acute situation.

Upon reflection it was easy to see that by continuing to behave in a similar manner (i.e. as if I did not have a chronic condition) my body was not coping. The chronic and acute situations were affecting all aspects of my life: my relationships, my day to day living, my work…

Something had to change.

One key change is that I have released the Photential activities that were most stressful (workshops) and will be solely focussing on my online provision. My future blog posts will directly reflect my attempts to live a more mindful life, with particular reference to photography.

I will share ideas, wisdom, successes and failures. I will offer mindful photography practices for you to try and share your photos if you would like to share. Above all I will be open and authentic about what it takes to live a mindful life. Where possible I will reflect this in my photography.

Over the next few months I will be developing new learning materials that will continue the explorations of a Mindful Photographer. If you would like to get regular updates you can subscribe to the Photential Newsletter (bottom of this page). If you love the road I am following please share with your friends, and like my Twitter and Facebook pages (see the bottom of the page).

As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. You are the world. I am the world. Change starts here.

The diptych photos in this post are part of a set that explored using a visual metaphor for change. 

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 whilst one is completely present in the moment.

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.

Contemplative Photography

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?

Clear Seeing

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. Our eyes see 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 ‘create 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 it 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.

What are these techniques and how can you learn them? Read on…

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 bring us into the present moment. 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 an online course that explores what it means to be a mindful photographer. It is offered in a flexible manner over 4 Courses, each one allowing you to enrol and work at a time to suit you. Each Course comprises of 2 units and each one explores aspects of the practice, offering resources, techniques, photos and assignments to support your development.

The key element of the online courses are the assignments, at least one for each unit, which are submitted to an online group page. The assignments offer you the opportunity to apply mindful photography practices, encouraging the development of mindfulness and creating personal photos that resonate for you. I offer supportive comments on every assignment photo and you can also see and comment on other students’ photos.

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 mindful practices that reflect and support other mindful practices we follow in our life. It also improves our understanding of photography and expands how you see.

The Mindful Photographer will be live early in 2016 at www.photential.com

You will never see the world in quite the same way again.

I use photography as a practice for mindfulness. As mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, creating a photograph can provide many practices that enable us to connect with what we can see, what the camera can see and what we feel or a feeling that we wish to convey.

Recently, I have not been well and have been living through one of life’s difficult periods. I haven’t felt very creative until the last couple of days, when I have started to carry my little camera around with me again.

The two photos below I was drawn to create as they seemed to speak of how I felt. When we choose to create a photograph that illustrates an emotion the visual connection can be a very personal experience. That is all that is required. If the viewer also experiences particular feelings when the see the photo that is a bonus.

Diptych2

Here are my favourite photos from a 1 hour mindful photography practice in London last weekend. The anchor I returned to when my mind got busy was ‘seeing colour’.

Looking at the photos today I am reminded of how I felt when I was there. The traffic noise, constant movement and speed, merged with iconic ideas of London: the red buses, black taxis, joggers in the mayhem, tall office blocks, ambulances on alert and people just going about their business. I didn’t find these photos they found me. Sometimes unerringly.

You will have to excuse me I am from the dreary provinces 😉

Mindful in London-w-7

Mindful in London-w-14

Mindful in London-w-15

Mindful in London-w-16

Mindful in London-w-20

Mindful in London-w-8

I do like visual metaphors. During a recent mindful photography practice I was walking from home to Mumbles (a three mile+ stroll) when I took the first photograph in the selection below. At the time I was drawn by the change of tone and texture and chose to represent this (in my mind) in black and white.

After the first photo I realised two things. Firstly that there were lots of opportunities for similarly themed photos. Secondly that the movement from one texture/tone to another could represent a transition in our lives. Change is a constant in life. Some of these changes are sudden, jagged and distinct, others are more gradual.

I thought they would look interesting as diptychs; comparing one life change to another. The last one I felt worked best in colour. What do you think?

edge-dip1 Edge-dip2 edge-dip3 edge-dip4

The moment you pick up a camera there are decisions to be made. As a photographer you spend minutes, hours and years learning the basics, developing your experience and finding your voice. Throughout this process decision making is central and yet often our favourite photos are taken instinctively, when the decision to press the shutter at the decisive moment, is seemingly taken for us. Let me explain.

The Wedding Photo

I’ll start with a photo. A while back, whilst working as a wedding photographer, I had to complete the formal photos in a hotel bedroom. I had just managed to squeeze in the bride and groom photos after the ceremony before the rains, whipped along by a strong wind, drove us all inside.

The hotel offered us an empty hotel bedroom. A pretty sterile environment, but at least it was dry. I remember opening all the blinds, turning on all the lights and noting that I could bounce flash off the white ceiling to at least get some half decent lighting. This was my least favourite part of the event and it was not quite what I had hoped for.

However, the decision making was straight forward. After having sorted the light I chose a mid range aperture and appropriate ISO to ensure I would get a shutter speed of 1/100. I was ready. Then all I had to do was arrange the guests in their chosen groups and take the photos.

At some stage during the movement from one group to another I took the photo below. I had no recollection of taking the photo, of composing it or changing anything on the camera. When I first saw it after scanning through the photos taken I laughed. ‘When did that happen?’ I thought. I had taken the photo on instinct. You could say, ‘I was in the zone.’

Janine-and-Tony112-w

Getting out of the way

As photographers we are in the zone when we are able to apply everything we know, see all the opportunities and create fantastic photos intuitively. Such moments are rare, but we know that they are the product of both hard work, study and practice, and an ability to relax into the moment. To let go of our attachment to the outcome and to allow ourselves to get out of the way, so that the decisions are taken on an almost sub-conscious level.

Trying to make this happen rarely works. I imagine that masters of their craft experience it more often. However, I have many more hours practice before I reach that position. Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers, suggests that mastery of any skill takes at least 10,000 hours practice. That seems a way off. If I practiced for 2 hours a day, every day it would take nearly 14 years. Ah well, I shall just keep at it, enjoying the journey and maybe along the way such moments will occur with increasing regularity.