It is easy when beset by difficulty to loose 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 involvment 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 Claifornia, Berkeley

I first thought of this idea as a literal photography activity, actually choosing to create photographs from a different perspective. In the example above, as if I was Monty, a chunky Bijon Frise viewing the world about 12-18″ from the floor. In itself I could see the potential for photographs that felt different. I later realised that the activity and photos themselves could also work as a metaphor; that they could represent an intention to see the world in a new way.

A photo activity

This is the photography activity you can try. Your mission is to create photographs from the perspective of your pet – a cat or dog would be ideal. I imagined that in order to create a Monty like view I would need to take photographs from his height and in the places he frequented.

I also considered what camera lens combination I was going to use. Dogs have a wider peripheral vision than us and although I have no idea what kind of focal length their eyesight is (ours is around 50mm) I decided to settle on a wide angle view.

I chose to use my Canon G7X on its widest view (equivalent to about 24mm) so that I could make use of the hinged screen. This enabled me to hold the camera low, pointing in a ‘Monty manner’, and angle the view screen so I could see what I was potentially receiving.

You could chose to use any camera/lens combination, but I feel that it is wise to then stick to that combination to create a series of photos from the same perspective. This will create a ‘feel’ or ‘style’ which you could identify as the ‘pet perspective’! As in the photo above, you can imagine how it must be to be confronted by a much larger dog. That the giant hound actually ran away from Monty is also hinted at in the lack of eye contact.

I invite you to try out this activity. Be lighthearted. Create a ‘pet perspective’ and play with it. Imagine you are the pet. Create lots of photos. Share your favourites with me (return of email) and I will share mine.

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Changing your perspective – photographically

Viewing the world from a different perspective enables us to see our ‘normal’ world differently. In photography we often call this ‘point of view’ (POV). It is one of the guidelines for effective composition. By changing our POV we change the shapes, colours, patterns and perspective that our camera sees.

I was reminded of this a couple of nights ago when watching the excellent documentary ‘Finding Vivian Maier‘. Vivian Maier was an eccentric American with some compulsive habits. One of these was taking photos and when she died, at a fortunate auction, an enormous quantity of developed and undeveloped photographs was discovered amongst her other large collections of boxes, newspaper cuttings, accessories and all sorts.

I am going to focus on the impression her photos make on me because of her POV, but I do recommend that you catch the movie or have a look at the website created by the man (John Maloof) who first discovered her photographs. The website is full of great photos and fascinating stories.

Vivian Maier was a prolific photographer. Much of her best work in the 50s and 60s was taken using a Rollieflex twin lens camera. She used this camera out and about on the street. The camera has a waist level finder which, as the name suggests, means that you look down into the camera held at your waist to compose the photograph.

Many of Vivian’s photographs provide the subject with a sense of power. She often was quite close to the subject and was shooting up into their face. This provides a towering perspective, something that then creates a style that is noticeable in her work.

Changing your perspective – in life

We are the product of our experiences. Those experiences have shaped who we are. They also determine how we experience the world moment to moment. Habit and familiarity guide us to a certain view of the world and each moment in it.

I know that the world is how it is. Until some fundamental change alters my world seeing events, moments and experiences from a different perspective is challenging. Why might we want to see a different perspective? Maybe because we want change, in ourselves, in our circumstances. Maybe we want to shed a little light on a darker corner of our world.

I have found this difficult. It is challenging enough to see a new perspective when a key aspect of your life changes, never mind choosing to see an experience, before it changes, in a new light. The cultivation of certain attitudes can help. There are 7 attitudes that underpin mindfulness that support our ability to be totally in the moment and to experience the reality of a situation or experience. This reality is often a new perspective!

The 7 attitudes are non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go. That is some list. As part of my own mindfulness practice and life enquiry I have started to write about these attitudes, their relevance to my life and to photography. You can find them via the tag cloud ‘7 attitudes’ in the right hand column of this blog. I hope that you find them of interest and I would welcome your thoughts.

Eric Kim is a passionate street photographer and prolific blogger based in Berkeley, California. I found his blog when looking for photographers who combined photography with a philosophic approach to life. It was probably through some random google search combining photography and zen, and Eric tumbled out.

Eric’s blog is a well of wisdom for the street photographer and is underpinned by his belief in open source photography, which basically means that he believes in sharing, for free, all of his knowledge and resources. His mission is ‘to spread and promote the love of street photography’. And boy does he do that!

In addition to his regular posts he offers a number of free e books, covering topics including: an introduction to street photography, street portraits, overcoming fear of street photography, a social media overview and my particular favourite, Zen in the Art of Street Photography. Eric describes this as “a compilation of all of my favorite articles on Zen, Taoism, Buddhism, gratitude, and other random philosophical musings.” It is an intriguing and thought provoking read.

However, the best starting point is this page which shares: the e book links, a free online introductory course, videos, popular and must read articles, posts on master street photographers, composition, philosophy, equipment, marketing, business, travelling, recommended books, other blogs, collectives, movies, laws, Flickr groups and the Streettogs Academy. That is some list huh?

The last item, Streettogs, is a Facebook group for doing, sharing and commenting on street photography assignments. It also has separate pages for discussion, critique and equipment.

I have always been drawn to the challenges and life of street photography. It is not something I have done enough of and would certainly be something I could develop as a mindful project. Thanks to Eric and his marvelous blog, I will have any question that I might have answered.

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The Activity

This photography activity is inspired by my friend Mel’s ‘Walk/Listen/Respond Project’. I have taken Mel’s base rules and adapted then for my needs!

My rules are: [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.

The Album

I chose to listen to War, Peace and Diplomacy by Tom Hickox and you can listen here.  I love his soothing, deep voice and thought it would be uplifting. I was forgetting the title of the album! Whilst the songs are tales of war, peace and diplomacy and the overall tone is somewhat melancholic, there are also themes of love and hope. Phew.

I didn’t set out to create a photo for each song. More to allow the music to flow through me; the words seeping into my subconscious and the melodies into my bones. from there I simply responded to the visual stimulation.

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