A Small Autumnal Space

I have a Mindful Photography Practice that invites you to create a set number of photos in a small space – something less than 20 metres square – in a set period of time. During the practice you turn off your review screen to encourage an attention to what you are seeing in the moment. No deleting and no review of the photos until the completion of the practice is an additional creative limitation.

I like creative limitations that encourage your attention to the moment. That’s probably no surprise to regular readers. Limitations to your practice inspire your imagination. When this is coupled with guidelines that develop your ability to truly see what is in front of you there is an inevitable consequence. Intriguing photographs.

Proof is in the pudding huh? Here are a few of my favourite creations from just such a practice last week. My creative limitations, including no deletion or review, included 20 photos in 45 minutes in a 10 metre square area. If I am honest I lost the count, immersed in the photo creation is my excuse! From those 20 I have a selection of 7 to share here. Do you like them?

 

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Mindful Photography and Positive Psychology

Last Friday I was invited by Professor Andrew Kemp to talk about Mindful Photography to his Positive Psychology students. I will be explaining what positive psychology in a moment and exploring the links between it and what I do. There are plenty. I should also say that it wasn’t really a ‘talk’, more an experiential workshop. After an outline of what Mindful Photography is and sharing my 4 Stage Seeing Practice, I got the students and Andrew to complete a mindful photography activity and then share and discuss some of their favourite photos.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. University of Pennsylvania

The link above is a great starting point and there are many more resources there that will provide you with all you could ever want to know about this fascinating branch of psychology. I’m gonna relate the three pillars of positive psychology below and it is from the same source. Dr Martin E.P.Seligman is kinda regarded (informally) as one of the fathers of this and he works at the University. His book Flourish is well worth a read. (I am not an affiliate)

The Three Pillars

The Three Pillars: Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive experiences, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits involves the study of strengths, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom. Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance.

University of Pennsylvania

What has Mindful Photography to do with Positive Psychology?

All mindful activities intend to bring you into the moment. Mindful Photography is no different. You use what you see as the anchor to return to, every time you notice photo thinking, looking for a photo or any other thoughts or feelings arising.

All mindful practice leads to a greater ability to notice your thoughts and feelings. Such practice is not always easy, but the intention is that by being more aware you then have the opportunity to make a more skillful response, rather than your habitual reaction. Continued practice leads to greater self awareness, and an opportunity to practice being with the difficult moments, thoughts and feelings, rather than reacting in a normal human way – denying, deluding or distracting yourself!

This is true practice. Challenging practice. It is a practice because you don’t always get it right. Your habitual patterns and reactions are well ingrained, but practice leads to new neural pathways being created and the possibility of responding skillfully and positively to life’s challenges.

It seems to me that all mindful practice provides the foundation for understanding the self, one of the three pillars of Positive Psychology. This is the area that I have developed my work with Mindful Photography, particularly to support living with difficulty after major change of significant loss. It is at this time that everything you believe you know about yourself is uprooted, the tethers to your kind of ‘normal’ dissolve, and whilst you still remain attached to the version of who you were before the change, living with who you are now brings huge difficulty.

I believe that there is an opportunity to use Mindful Photography Practices to explore and understand who you are after this major change and significant loss. Sometimes talking about your thoughts and feelings is difficult, impossible or just not something you are used to. Learning how to represent emotions and ideas in a photograph provides a visual way of representing how you are. It also allows you to get personal and share as much or as little as you are comfortable with. The photos can exist shared or kept private, with or without explanation. They can be a window to your soul and the practice allows you time to process what you are living with.

My Work

I believe that this is my work for the next few years. I am finally finishing my book on the subject, and it will be available in 2019 initially as an eBook. I will continue to offer courses and workshops and will also offer free talks on the topic to interested groups. I also have an application in with the Arts Council to fund a project called ‘Who Am I Now?’ that will create up to 15 diptych self portrait photographs with people who are living with significant loss. One photo will represent who they were before the change and one who they are now.

I plan to develop my website and newsletter to support this clear direction and would welcome and thoughts, ideas and interest from you.

The Workshop

Back to the workshop with the psychology students. We were blessed with a glorious day and they were all invited to create 5 photos in 30 minutes, without looking at their creations and not deleting any photos. Upon their return they got into small groups and chose one photo per group to share and talk about to the rest of the group.

All of this was done with smartphones and a cool app called Slack. This allowed the students to upload their photos, share a written comment and it appear instantly on the feed. Kind of a closed Facebook group but without the need for a FB account. Unfortunately, I forgot to get written permissions so I cannot share any of their photos – you’ll have to manage with mine in this post!

One of the other ideas we were exploring that links Positive Psychology with Mindful Photography is that of Psychological Flow – the moment of being completely attuned, holistically, with the one thing that you are doing. It’s the kind of experience where time dissolves and you achieve maximum performance without realising how you did it. Practicing the skill is the bedrock of this experience, then somewhere approaching 10,000 hours of practice (Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers) you slip into the flow. In photography the camera becomes an extension of your body, all of the technical and compositional decisions just happen and a great photo is born.

At the end of the workshop Andrew asked the students if any of them had the flow experience. A few put their hands up. I’m grateful they were so polite!

Many thanks for the invitation for Professor Andrew Kemp and for the students for getting fully involved

 

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Foundation Skills Course Week 4 Mindful Composition

Week 4 brings us to Photography Composition, with a mindful twist. Now photography composition is an area of knowledge that generates books and courses on its own, and I cover it in two 2.5 hour lessons. Obviously, I have a particularly mindful approach, one that centres upon following a compositional guideline as a mindful practice. But I am getting ahead of myself. First a definition and then the guidelines.

Composing a photo means arranging elements within it in a way that suits the core idea or goal of your work best

As the topic of photography composition is so large I separate it out over two weeks and make use of a summative structure to help new students remember all the possible guidelines. This week I introduced the four overarching themes, each one having a few individual elements of composition that kind fit the theme. The four themes and elements are:

▪ Balance (Rule of Thirds, Weight, Frames, Diagonals, Symmetry)
▪ Subject and Background (Depth, Foreground, Isolate Subject)
▪ Point of View (Juxtaposition, Leading Lines)
▪ Simplicity (Minimal, Fill Frame)

The elements of each theme are each of themselves photographic composition guidelines, I just group them in this way to help understanding and learning. This is also backed up with visual examples and discussion. But the heart of my course is experiential mindful learning and that means a Mindful Photography Practice.

The students were invited to spend an hour following one of the themes and elements to create some engaging photos. They were encouraged to follow the 4 Stage Seeing Practice and to review each photo as they went, and then make adjustments.

The next session will cover part 2 of composition – the 7 Elements of Design. Later in the course we look at why, when and how we break the guidelines. Ooo, breaking the rules. Exciting.

Want to learn more? Come on one of my courses! Here are the students favourite photos.

 

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Foundation Skills Course – Week 3 Seeing the Photo

The beginning of the Foundation Skills Course in Mindful Photography is all about encouraging your ability to see a photo. An easy ambition you may think. Seeing a photo implies an ability to see a photographic opportunity. Perhaps the major challenge lies in that thought that may just have popped in to your head, “How do I create a good photo?”

The little voice we all have, can be curious about your ability to create a good photo. It may be particularly judgemental, saying things like, “Your photos are often no good.” “You can’t take good photos.” Or simply, “That’s rubbish”. This judging mind can be a real pain. And it gets in the way of what you are really capable of. My intention on the course is to connect you with what you can see and then to teach you the most interesting ways of representing that in a photograph. But what you have to do first is really strange, almost counter intuitive. I ask you to not look for a photo, whilst you are out creating photos.

I know, crazy right? How you can you not look for a photo and then create a photo. Ah well, that is what I teach on the course. It is a challenge, but it is also easy. What I encourage you to do is to remain present with what you can see. To walk in your location, not looking for a photo, but alert to what you can see. Then something will catch your eye. Only then do you stop and consider what it is. Really look at what is there. Look at where it is, how far away, what it is about it that stopped you.

Maybe you need to move closer. Maybe you need to change your point of view, move up, down, left right, in or out? Only after this consideration do you press the shutter, not look at the photo and move on. Walking, not looking for a photo.

I know. I said don’t look at what you have just created. This is helpful. It holds back your judging mind. If you don’t look at your photo, you will just move on, not looking for a photo. This way of being with your camera will improve your connection to what you can see. Then of course your photos will become more interesting.

This week’s mindful photos

This week’s task for our intrepid students was to create 20 photos in a small space in 45 minutes, not looking for a photo, not looking at what was created and just being with the seeing. Each photographer then shared at least 2 photos with the group and talked about why they shared them. Here they are.

Foundation Skills Course – Week 2

Using Seeing as your anchor for Mindful Photography

The Foundation Skills Course centres upon using Seeing as your anchor for Mindful Photography. If you are to create fabulous photos that say something of your world and are not just like anyone else’s, then you need to really pay attention to what you can see.

You may think that this is easy. It is easy to understand. However, to really see what is there and to overcome the barriers to clear seeing you first need to pay attention, to be really present with your intention to create photos. This week’s lesson and next week’s are the foundation of developing that skill.

This week I introduced the 4 Stage Seeing Practice. This is a simple structured approach to support your intention to pay attention to the visual feast in front of you. It turns the act of creating photos into a kind of meditation and is at the heart of Mindful Photography. Remember:

Looking is a gift. Seeing is a power Jeff Berner

The students were presented with a photography activity, or as I call them a Mindful Photography Practice. The practice was timebound, the number of photos they could create was limited to 20 and they were not allowed to review the photos as they created them. This was achieved by turning off the review facility and trusting them not to take a sneaky peak!

All of these limitations support the intention to remain present with the visual, to not be distracted by your judging mind as it reviews each photo as they are created and decides whether its good or bad. This is a theme I return later in this course – and on Course 2 – as it has familiar echoes through the rest of your life.

When the students returned to the class they reviewed their photos and decided upon the two they wanted to share and discuss. This section allows for understanding to deepen and learning to be mutually supportive and is often the most eagerly anticipated part. Here are their favourites.

Foundation Skills Course – Week 1

This week was the first of my rebranded Mindful Photography Course. I’ve changed the name of the first 8 week course to ‘Foundation Skills’. The content is still the same and covers an introduction to Mindfulness, Mindful Photography and three key topics. The first is Clear Seeing – how you can improve your seeing and use seeing as your mindful anchor when creating photos. The second looks at Compositional Guidelines and the third is Mindful Attitudes – how mindful attitudes can be developed through photography. The course also includes Mindful Photography Practices to support the development of your skills and understanding.

The name change is designed to clearly reflect what the course covers. It provides you with the skills which you can then develop and use on the second course: Exploring Life. Together the two courses support people who have experienced significant loss or great change in their life to explore the question, “Who Am I Now?”

Week 1 is an introduction to Mindful Photography. I cover what mindfulness and meditation are and link this to an outline of what Mindful Photography is, particularly describing how photography can be used as a mindful practice. I also run over the other topics that we are going to cover on the course: Clear Seeing, Composition skills and Mindful Attitudes.

Slow Down

The first challenge I set our new group was to slow down their photography practice. The speed at which we can create and delete photographs digitally has led to a disconnect with the present moment. This contributes to our inability to see what is really there. Digital cameras can take hundreds of photos in minutes and we can easily discard the ones we don’t like. This leads to a belief that because we can take many photos one will be good and we then don’t pay attention, as well as we can, to what can be seen. Seeing is at the heart of photography and is our anchor in Mindful Photography.

All photography activities on the course are called practices. Each one can be completed more than once, each one is an invitation to practice being present with your camera. My initial practices on the course encourage you to slow down and really connect with what you can see. This intention is supported by turning a digital camera into something like a film camera.

You too can do this. All you need to do is to turn off your viewscreen – for viewing and review. If you can’t, or don’t know how to, you can just tape a small piece of card over the screen. Then you limit the number of photos you are allowed to take. For example you only allow yourself 10 photos, with deleting not allowed.

Not being able to see what you have created (and if you have no viewfinder you have to imagine what the camera is receiving) slows you right down. Each photo becomes more precious, and just counting to 10 becomes a challenge! If you would like to know more take a look at the post ’10 Tips to slow down your photography’

At the end of the practice – which we did for 45 mins, each photographer chose one favourite photo to share and discuss with the rest of the group. Here they are.