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Weekly Mindful Photography Challenge – Transition

This week I thought I would combine our mindful photography challenge with the The Daily Post’s own photo challenge which is Deltadelta as in a place and time that represents a transition or sliver of greater change. A river delta, where the river meets the ocean is a place of tremendous transition, and photography of course captures only a moment of that continuous change.

It is true to say that every photo represents a sliver in time. A photograph shows something as it was in that moment. That moment is then gone and the subject of the photo is no longer the same. How can that be true? What if you photograph a mountain? Everything is changing. Everything is impermanent, even a mountain. Everest was once the base of a valley. It is just that some of the changes are so slow as to trick you that they will always be that way.

So this week I would like you to create a photo that represents transition. One that represent’s a photograph’s ability to capture a moment of that transition, a moment that is then stilled for eternity. My photo is of a fragment of Swansea Bay. The photo was taken in the low early evening golden light, itself a period of transition and captures a moment and section of the beach at low tide. By using a wide aperture I have also suggested the tide’s return and the truth that this view will soon be gone, never to return in the same way again.

For your practice consider choosing a location where you feel each time you visit there is the potential for a different experience. When you arrive at the location sit for a while and really arrive. Then start to walk, not looking for a photo, only observing the scene. When an opportunity presents itself stop. Consider what it was that stopped you. Really look at it. Notice how far away the subject is. Breathe and tune in to how the scene makes you feel. When that feeling echoes transition in your heart and mind, press the shutter.

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What has abstract photography ever done for me?

There was a time when I just did not get abstract photography. What was its point? Pretty patterns, shifty shapes and creative colour all looked OK, but what did it mean? I was more of the literal photographic field, telling tales of human life. Real people, real lives.

I am not sure when it changed, so I assume it must have been gradual, but I have now swung the other way. I get it. Well, I get what it does for me. Does it work for you? Let me share what it does for me. You might change your mind.

Let’s start with a definition: abstract (adjective) “relating to or denoting art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but rather seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, colours, and textures”.

OK, so it is photography that does not attempt to represent external reality. Instead through choice of shapes, colours, patterns and textures it “seeks to achieve its effect.” And in the case of abstract photography this creates the opportunity for an emotional response to a photograph.

Abstract Photography is a little like poetry. With poetry the words, rhythms and spaces create images in our mind that connect with our heart. With Abstract Photography it is the shapes, colours, patterns and textures we choose to frame that create the emotional connection. We are less concerned with what the object is (because it is not easily defined) and more receptive to how we feel about the photograph.

Fooling the Mind

 

Here’s a little test. When you first saw this photo what happened? In fractions of a second your mind took in the colour, shapes, shadow and lines and tried to find a match to a previously known object. You were searching for a label to name the object. We do like to make sense of this world and of course it is this ability that keeps us alive!

What if you can’t identify what it is? What happens then? Your mind has absorbed other facts. The colours, shapes, patterns, lines etc all suggest ideas and feelings. These ideas and feelings are generated from our personal experience and from our culture. For example: white symbolises purity, cleanliness; the downward curve could be the edge of a sad mouth. We are reading the photo and connecting with how we feel about it.

 

OK, who didn’t see waves here? There we go, our mind trying to conceptualise – to make sense of the visual cues. There is not water of any kind in this photo. It’s all tarmac, concrete and metal. Most importantly though, how does it make you feel?

So are you intrigued? Do you want to learn more? On my Online Mindful Photography Course (available in September 2017) I look in depth at creative abstract photographers and delve into the opportunities abstract photography presents to create photographs that make an emotional connection. You will learn different approaches to representing your emotions in a photograph and how to create photographs when you are experiencing strong emotions. This then provides support for processing some of life’s difficult experiences. Yes, a mindful approach to photography can help and support you!

All you have to do is keep an eye on the website, maybe subscribe to the blog (in the footer below) or download the FREE eBook, which will not only provide some thoughts on Mindful Photography, it will also get you subscribed to me Monthly Newsletter.

P.S. The photos were of a kettle and a car parked by the pavement

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The Unruly Mind

With mindfulness, as we practice – be it meditation, mindful photography or simply being present with the one thing that we are doing – our present awareness develops. As our present awareness deepens, our understanding and appreciation of the moment has room to expand. In this moment thoughts may arise and we notice how busy our mind is. We practice by returning to our anchor. In meditation this is often the breath. In mindful photography it is the seeing.

It is helpful to remind ourselves why we do this. Let us take a moment to reflect upon the roots of mindfulness. This paragraph from Lama Surya Das (an American born Tibetan Buddhist Lama) from his book ‘Awakening the Buddha within reminds us what mindfulness is.

“In the original Mindfulness Sutra, the Buddha described what he called the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. These teachings remind us to be aware of our bodies; aware of our feelings and emotions; aware of our thoughts; and aware of events as they occur, moment by moment.”

The Unruly Mind

Mindful practices – breathing meditation, mindful movement (yoga, qigong, walking), body scan and mindful photography all allow us to be more present in our lives and to connect with our bodies, feelings, thoughts and events. The most challenging discovery is that it is our minds that are unruly. Running about indiscriminately through our past events, memories and future plans. Concocting imaginary conversations and worrying about things that may never happen.

I like this quote that lightens up the challenge ahead!

“Our minds can be wonderful, but at the same time they can be our very worst enemy. They give us so much trouble. Sometimes I wish the mind were a set of dentures which we could leave on our bedside table overnight.” Sogyal Rinpoche

May your practice calm the unruly child that is your mind.

The Photo

As a practicing mindful photographer I know that bringing this awareness to photography allows the possibility that personal intuitive art that resonates with our heart and mind can be created. The photo above was created whilst practicing mindful photography and reminds me of the unruly mind; the confusion of imagery, the depth of vision and the possibility of life.

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Mindful Photography Courses

I have recently updated my Mindful Photography Course page to make it a little clearer.

There are two course offers, how exciting! Each is 8 weeks in length and can be delivered to people aged 7 to 70 and for any group. Pupils, students, participants, staff and service users will all benefit.

‘Applying Mindfulness to Photography’ covers an introduction to Mindfulness and Mindful Photography and three key topics.

Clear Seeing – how you can improve your seeing and use seeing as your mindful anchor.

Photo Thinking – how you can hold all those photographic thoughts and remain present with the visual

Mindful Attitudes – how 9 core attitudes can be developed through photography

The course includes Mindful Photography Practices to support the development of your skills and understanding

The second course is ‘Developing Mindfulness through Photography’ This is also 8 weeks and builds upon the skills and practices in the first course and introduces two key topics.

Present Feeling – how you can develop your ability to connect to your emotions and communicate this through your photography

Mindful Living – how you can explore your notion of self through photography, touching upon your living through loss and change and the fear generated through these experiences. You will learn Mindful Photography Practices that support your journey through this challenging terrain.

Take a look and if you would like to know more Contact me

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson

“Photography is putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis”
Henri Cartier Bresson

I do love this quote. Not only does it summarise my view of photography beautifully, it has also been an inspiration for my development of a mindful approach to photography.

Henri Cartier Bresson was a French photographer who is generally regarded as the father of photojournalism. He was an early user of 35mm, which with his rangefinder Leica and 50mm lens attached allowed him to develop his candid style of street photography. He is perhaps most famous for coining the phrase ‘the decisive moment’, to describe the optimum time to press the shutter.

This quote neatly encapsulates the key aspects of outstanding photography and is worthy of a brief analysis.

The Eye

What we see through our eyes is light and colour. Our eyes do not know what it is that they see. In that way they are very much like the camera, they record the light, they do not label what they see.

Our eyes also see like a combination of two lenses. They have a focal length similar to a 50mm lens, but with far wider angle of view. Our peripheral vision gives us the view similar to a fish eye lens – but without the severe distortion.

All of this sensory information is passed instantaneously to the brain, and that is where the trouble starts!

The Head

By head, we mean the role of the mind in photography. Its primary purpose is to interpret all of the visual information provided by the eyes. This is to keep us safe, identifying potential threats and potential sources of food. Except when we train to be photographers all of that identification and labeling can get in the way of seeing what is really in front of us.

The features before us are the light, colours, shapes, forms, lines, space, patterns and textures. Our mind receives this visual information and in a snap compares this to known similar visual data and labels the object(s). All very useful on the Serengeti Plains when out hunting. but as a photographer hunting a great photo it is the features that we need to see before the label. For it is this that will guide our artistic creation through compositional choice.

So how can we learn to forget the names of what we see and truly see everything, and every possibility? Practice. In the online course I am currently developing I share practices that can help to develop this ability.

The Heart

The heart is used here to signify the emotion of a photograph. If we are to create photographs that rise above the ‘good’ to be ‘great’ we need to engage the heart. Both ours and the viewers. How can we do that? Guess what? I share some of the foundations of how photographers first attempted to do this, and some useful mindful practices to support your development as photographers in my online course.

If you are intrigued why not download the free eBook below and then you’ll get some great information, and a mindful photography practice. You will also get more detail about the course (because you’ll be subscribed to my newsletter) and be the first to try out my free Introduction to Mindful Photography 5 Day Challenge, which will be released in September 2017.

Shattered

Sometimes events arrive in our world and all that we know is shattered. Even if we know that nothing is forever we sometimes imagine that it is. Then in a flash it is gone.

Loss, often in the form of death, is one such shattering experience that we all live through at some time. I was reminded of this by my friend Phil who recited (from memory) a short poem by Leon Wieseltier from his book Kaddish. I have not read the book, but I believe it is an autobiography that was written after his father’s death, about his loss and how his faith and exploration supported his acceptance of the shattering event.

Phil has kindly recorded himself reciting the poem. It is less than two minutes long. Do listen.

Relieved

Are you relieved to see a bit of sunshine? If you are UK based then you’re probably expressing delight or misery, dependent upon whether you’re enjoying some well earned rest or working in the heat. It is very warm for the UK. And boy do we let everyone know!

I was looking for some inspiration to go with the ‘relieved’ title and came across this favourite photo of mine from a Paignton Seafront visit a couple of years ago. For those of you with an interest in photographers as inspiration I must confess that this photo owes a debt of gratitude to Martin Parr’s Last Resort. That series of photos truly nails the British on holiday in Britain. It’s the little details, with an edge of caustic humour that I loved in his photos and this one kind of echoes that intention.

I love the irony of the guy on the left reading the Sun under an umbrella. And the Britishness just shouts out: the striped deckchairs, the edge of a sandcastle, the beach huts, the mix of dress choices and those fluffy white clouds against a blue sky. They all lend to the seaside postcard feeling.

Do you think they are all relieved to be on their holidays? Let’s hope so!

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Weekly Mindful Photography Challenge – Self

Every week throughout the summer I will be posting a photography challenge that is designed to bring you into the present moment. They can be completed with any camera, even your phone. Your favourite photos are posted to our Facebook group, which is a public group so that you can invite your friends to join in.

This week’s mindful photography challenge is ‘Self’. I would like you to create just one NEW photograph that responds to the theme. But I only want you to press the shutter once. Consider your idea for a photo. Visualise it. Frame it. Think about your technical choices for exposure. Consider what is in and out of the frame. Consider your composition. Then release all expectation and press the shutter.

Notice your thoughts when reviewing your photo. Is there any judgement creeping in? Are you tempted to create another one? How would it feel if you just posted the one you have created?

Share your one photo here. This is mine which was created just now! I went to collect my camera from the lounge and caught sight of myself in the mirror. Generally when I create a selfie I do not have the camera clearly in sight. I thought I would create a photo that celebrated my relationship with the camera. Not only is my new camera front and foremost, but one of my favourite photos is in the background.

See what you can say about your ‘self’ in one photo

 

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What can your dog teach you about mindfulness?

Monty is a middle aged Bijon Frise. White haired, curious and very friendly. What can a four legged creature teach a two legged one about mindfulness, consciousness and the self?

Monty is a creature of the moment. His day is shaped by routine and it is coloured by sensations and experiences. He is a conscious creature, aware of his surroundings and stimulated by what he perceives. He sense of smell is of course, acute. At any meal time, whilst food – especially meat – is being prepared or eaten, the patter of his little feet approaching the kitchen can be heard.

His sense of hearing is (allegedly) 10 times more sensitive than ours. I can be on one floor of the house and make a cat noise and Monty, on the top floor, will come thundering down the stairs in the hope of seeing, or perhaps catching a cat.

Monty experiences emotion. He experiences fear: loud traffic noises, flying objects, fireworks and certain dogs in the park all stimulate a strong desire to run back home to safety. Something he has done several times, fortunately dodging traffic as he careers across busy roads.

He seeks out contact. He likes to be be stroked, held and played with. Apparently, when we stroke a dog serotonin is produced not only in our body, but also their’s. Are they experiencing a feeling of well being?

Like Monty we are also experiencing our life through the sensations, thoughts and feelings that arise in our consciousness. Monty though, lives solely in the present moment. This is his greatest teaching.

This doggy moment

Monty has a vocabulary of 30 – 40 words. Each of these words will stimulate a response. Cat, food, sit, No, go, Bijon, sausage, wait etc are all associated with an action. And whilst we do talk to him as though he understands, language is of course a concept too far! So when I talk to him about a cat he saw earlier in the day, Monty will perk up and look for the cat in the room now. Not only is language a concept too far, so is the past or future.

Both the past and future are concepts we have created to explain and cope with the passage of time. We are smart enough to imagine that the past actually exists. But, of course, it does not. It is a construct we have created and that we hold in our consciousness. The past is not a reality. You cannot touch it or experience it in any way, apart from in our imagination. If you attend an experience that recreates the past – a play, film, themed event – you are experiencing the present moment, albeit a present moment that is shaped to look and feel like the past.

Similarly, the future never exists. For when we reach a particular point in time it is the present!

Monty knows this. He only knows that there is this moment right now. Monty lives in the present moment. The mindful hound!

The doggy self

Monty has one other lesson for us. Another trick up his furry sleeve which helps him to be present in this moment. Monty has no concept of self.

If I hold Monty up to a mirror he may look at himself briefly, but pretty quickly his gaze slips away to what is behind or next to him. There is no curiosity. No checking out how he looks. There doesn’t even appear to be a recognition that he is looking at a dog, or that the dog is him.

So the idea that there is such a thing as the ‘self’ does not trouble Monty. He experiences his day a series of sensations, feelings and thoughts arising and passing. Each one is a singular moment and each one is experienced in that moment.

We though get sidetracked. Our mind has created a construct it calls ‘self’. This construct is constantly being refined, developed, coloured and shaped by our sensations, feeling and thoughts. Above all it is the thought that we are an independent self, different from the next person that separates us from this present moment awareness.

My concept of self is strong and is reinforced every moment of every day. Sitting in meditation or following any mindful practice has the potential to remind us that it is only our consciousness receiving. There is no self experiencing. The self is an illusion. An imaginary beast. A construct created and recreated by our conscious mind.

Monty is always with the experience of the moment. They are fine teachers, our canine friends. Guru Monty has much to teach me!

Focus

Friends tell me I have great focus. If there’s a task that I want to do then I will be attentive to the process and the outcome. Job done! You notice I said, “that I want to do”. If I don’t want to do it then I may procrastinate or be focused on methods of avoidance. Focus is a very useful attribute; though I have, through personal experience, learnt how it can slip in to striving beyond my natural abilities. 

As a mindfulness practitioner I am working on this awareness. The trick seems to be to pay attention to my body and mind. My body may provide physical symptoms of how my focus is slipping into unhelpful striving. These are usually easy to spot, but perhaps also easy to ignore. My mind however requires constant training.

Your mind, like mine, is constantly busy. Even when you are focused on a specific task, and imagine that you are pretty attuned to what you are doing, your mind will still play about. Slipping off into an imaginary conversation, wondering about how your work will be recognised, or simply replaying an incident from earlier in the day.

Meditation is the training that enables you to pay attention to your mind. Meditation burns the neural pathways that support our intention to be aware of our thoughts and feelings. This then percolates through our life, enabling a mindful approach. Focus requires mindfulness like trees require sunshine.

Focus in Photography

In the world of photography focus is usually a matter of how sharp your object or image is. However, I am attracted to using a de-focused lens. This enables a playfulness and a sense of possibility. It throws the need for identification of object out of the window and allows colour, shape, pattern and line to assume prominence. These then can suggest a feeling, or they can just be how you were in the moment and let the viewer interpret the vision you have created.

What is then created, can through your choice of visual elements, create a metaphor for a thing or feeling. Alternatively, the blurring of a familiar object may provide a sense of softness or delicacy that would not have been present if the object had been sharp.

If you are intrigued about this and would like to experiment then you need to do two things. Find out how to turn your auto-focus off (this is not always possible with all digital cameras or phones) and secondly get out there and experiment. Inspiration is also at hand. One of my favourite modern photographers who works like this is Isabella Berr. Take a look and take a chance!

The last act of your life

“Do every act of your life as though it were the very last act of your life.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I’m not sure where I first came across this, I tend to jot down quotes I like for future reference in a little notebook. This was in there.

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor in the 2nd century who wrote several books, now known as Meditations, over ten years whilst on military campaign.

This particular quote reminds me that each and every moment is here but once. Whilst the encouragement to ‘do every act…..as though it were the very last..’ is somewhat melodramatic reminder, sometimes we need those dramatic thoughts to shake us from drifting through the moment and day. Perhaps he did not mean it so literally, merely as a call to wake up and be present in our day. Which reminds me of what a wise bear once said about waking up and the day ahead.

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”

A A Milne

An Ending

Every ending may be a beginning, but sometimes we find the adaptation to this change beyond comprehension. I was discussing endings and beginnings with my good friend Phil today and he recited a short poem he had learnt on this very topic by Leon Wieseltier, from his book Kaddish.

A poem should always be read out loud, so I asked Phil (who needs no second invitation, being a trained actor) to record himself reading this fabulous poem. If you can spare 2 minutes please sit quietly and contemplate these wise words.