Living well with difficulty

This post is shared in support of World Mental Health Day (10th October)

Yesterday started with difficulty. I was unsettled, ragged, insecure and confused. What was going on? There was nothing I could identify as a cause. I had slept well, was generally content and the day ahead looked interesting. However, I could not shake the feelings. I became uncertain about every little thing, unable to decide what to do next.

It took me a while to realise that I did not need to know what was going on; to accept that I did not like my feelings. Finally, I remembered my own Mindful Photography Activities, and particularly the one I have created for exactly this experience. So, I picked up my camera and favourite lens, set it up in my normal mode, turned my phone to ‘Do not disturb’, set a meditation timer for an hour and set out to my local environment to complete the activity.

There is something about being out in the fresh air; creating photos that respond to what I see and how I feel. It is a grounding and enriching experience. I found that the photos I initially created were full of simple lines and barriers. Later on, as I noticeably felt calmer, they lightened in tone, even became humourous. I had returned to myself.

The photos in this post are my favourites from this mindful photography activity.

Mindful Photography for Well-Being (Zoom Workshops Course)

I have decided that I need to share my thoughts, experience and mindful photography activities that can help you to live well with difficulty.

We can all get overwhelmed by difficult feelings at times. Without doubt these challenging times we are living through can magnify this experience. Sometimes the feelings manifest as discomfort, sometimes anxiety. Sometimes it becomes debilitating. At these times we need help. Professional help can be essential, but also practical creative activities and genuine community support can help to shift our feelings.

This course explores living well with difficulty. It reviews the impact major change, significant loss and ongoing difficulty can have in our lives. I know, I have lived through some major life changes, and significant losses. I have used mindful photography to help understand what was happening and to slowly move towards the acceptance of the changes.

The course will be delivered in 6 live workshops with me in January and February 2021. There will be a maximum of 12 places available. This is so that I can support you, keep the space safe and explore the challenges in your life with compassion, honesty and authenticity, through the creation of mindful photos.

It is suitable for all levels of ability, and all cameras. And you can see more about the content by clicking on the button below. If you have any questions about the course please use the contact form

Practice makes perfect

Or does it? There is some disagreement. It generally goes like this: if you practice the wrong skills everyday you will ingrain bad habits, not perfection. I prefer Michael Jordan’s take on this.

“You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.” Michael Jordan

Michael knew a thing or two about excellence. Sure he was super talented, but he still practiced – a lot. Practice is a habit, but it also needs to be mindful. You need to pay attention to what you are doing. You need advice, guidance, support and a compassionate, curious, constructively critical mind. Practice for me is honing my skills, but I know I will make mistakes. That is part of the practice; noticing them, correcting them and absorbing the difference. Then practicing again.

As Michael Jordan suggests the fundamentals are everything. So what are the fundamentals (or as I call them the Foundations) of Mindful Photography?

The Foundations of Mindful Photography

The photo above and the others illustrating this post are from one of my recent Mindful Photography Practices around a local park. I use the Insight timer (a free app) to set a one hour period and followed some creative limitations that I recommend to help develop your seeing skills and support the development of your photography skills. What are they you ask? They include the limited time period, a limit on the number of photos you create (20 in this case), no deleting, and no reviewing of each photo created.

What is the purpose of these limitations? To encourage you to pay attention to what is in front of you – what you see, and to focus upon your use of photography skills – technique and composition. There is more to it than this brief explanation, but that is at the heart of it and is at the core of the next online course I am developing, ‘Foundations in Mindful Photography’. The course will cover these foundation skills:

  • Mindfulness and meditation skills – to develop your ability to be mindful throughout your life
  • Seeing skills – “Looking is a gift. Seeing is a power” Jeff Berner
  • Technical photography skills – knowing how your camera works, lighting, exposure, focus, lens focal length, camera maintenance
  • Compositional photography skills – the guidelines for effective composition, 7 elements of visual design, framing the photo

These are the foundations of photography. Learn and practice these and you are on the way to creating great photos. Of course, I teach these foundation skills in a mindful manner. I share methods, ideas and practices that you can follow to develop and hone these skills wherever you start from. If this is of interest to you, do download the eBook below and you’ll then be on my email list, and all the news about the course launch and Mindful Photography 101 will arrive in your inbox – with special offers for early enrolment (of course).

Let me finish with a great artist’s advice on this topic of practice making perfect.

“As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward.” Vincent Van Gogh

PS I have shared a number of thoughts and mindful photography practices on this topic over the year, you can link to them here

Mindful Photography 101 – Coming Soon!

Mindful Photography 101 – your detailed introduction to Mindful Photography will be with you later this month. Want to know a little bit about what it covers?

Your guide to the what, why and how of Mindful Photography is coming later this month. It will include: The relationship between mindfulness and meditation, how they blend with photography to create Mindful Photography, 10 Golden Guidelines and the 4 Stage Seeing Practice. All this and 6 mindful photo activities, downloadable meditations, a private community group and a live workshop with me!

What’s not to like? More detail very soon.

If you would like to be kept in the loop, download the free eBook below!

Blending Mindfulness with Photography

I am at the beginning of a deep re-evaluation of my photography business. Central to this process is that my business offers self development and enquiry through photography, with Mindful Photography at its heart. This has encouraged me to reflect on why I have applied mindfulness to photography. Jon Kabat Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living), who has probably been one of the main catalysts for the growth in popularity of Mindfulness in the West, explains some of my thinking,

“….bringing Mindfulness to any activity transforms it into a kind of meditation. Mindfulness dramatically amplifies the probability that any activity in which your engaged will result in an expansion of your perspective and your understanding of who you are.”

Expanding your perspective

I like this a lot. “An expansion of your perspective” is a fabulous way of saying that you are totally immersed in the moment. Aware of what you are experiencing. Aware of the thinking and feelings frolicking in your mind and noticing them playing out in your body. Aware of the ground beneath you and the sky above.

As a photographer that would translate first and foremost to being completely tuned into the visual experience in front of you. The light, the colours, shapes, forms, patterns, textures and more could provide your anchor to the moment, just like the breath can in meditation.

Furthermore the relationship between this visual experience and creating an equivalent of it with your camera (a photograph) would provide the opportunity to practice mindfulness with your technical and compositional choices. This is a large subject; one I will be addressing later in the year through my online course Mindful Photography Foundation Skills. (Download the free eBook below, to get an insight into Mindful Photography and a regular newsletter from me, with news of all the forthcoming online courses.)

Understanding who you are

The final part of the sentence, “…..and your understanding of who you are,” opens the possibility of using photography as a vehicle for personal enquiry. This is something that interests me greatly. I will be creating resources throughout this year that will support you to investigate the events and circumstances you find difficult, through photography. These will form the basis of my online course, Mindful Photography for difficult times, which I hope to release before the end of 2020.

Henri Cartier Bresson provides us a glimpse of how this kind of personal enquiry is possible in his famous book ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952

“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.”

It is these two areas: expanding our perspective and understanding who we are, that will be threads running through my new Mindful Photography Online Courses and eBooks. It is going to be a fascinating journey I do hope that you will join me.

You can subscribe to my mailing list and receive a FREE ebook using the form below.

Mindful Photography Online Courses – coming soon

I have recently been awarded a grant from the Arts Council of Wales’s National Lottery Fund that will change the way I work, and what I offer, as well as providing some stability at this challenging time. Many thanks to them and the National Lottery. This will also change what I can offer to you. Here is what I have planned.

New Online Courses in Mindful Photography

I will be creating and sharing online courses in Mindful Photography with an engaged, supportive community of like minded people – just like you! These courses will include live workshops, webinars, videos, and downloadable PDFs, audio and eBooks. The courses will support you to become more mindful and create personal resonant photos; whilst also sharing with you how Mindful Photography can help you to understand, process and accept your emotions that arise from ongoing difficulty, major change and significant loss. They will cover the three core elements of Mindful Photography that are outlined below and will include a free Introductory course, staged Mindful Photography courses and a Multiple Exposure/Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) specialist course.

The three core elements of Mindful Photography

  1. Seeing Practice – I share the Four Stage Seeing Practice in all my work. It contains two key aspects; the practice itself and the regular application of that practice.
  2. Foundation Skills Development – The foundation skills fall into two areas: mindfulness and photography. Each involves learning the skills through regular attentive practice. Just like mindfulness, all of the photography skills can be learnt with regular practice, in this case with mindful photography practices (activities).
  3. Exploring Your Life – Exploring your life experiences, events and emotional reactions is possible through the application of your mindfulness and photography Foundation Skills. These experiences, events and emotions can be illustrated by personal photographs, the creation of which supports you to process the emotional upheaval brought on by loss, change and difficulty.

Online Exhibition

The second part of my grant application is to create a series of photos, using multiple exposure and ICM, that represent our emotional experiences of lockdown and the pandemic. These photos will be inspired by mine and your emotional experience of this period and will initially be shared in an open and accessible for all Online Exhibition. I am interested to know some of the emotions you have experienced and how you think they could be illustrated in a photograph. If you would like to take part and influence my photographs please answer this question (you can use the contact form to send it)

What feelings spring to mind when you think of the lockdown, the effects of the pandemic on your life and your immediate future?

All answers will be treated confidentially and used to inspire photos that illustrate your emotional experience.

This work was made possible through funding from the Arts Council of Wales’s National Lottery Fund.

10 ways Mindful Photography can help you

Imagine that you press your camera shutter and create a photo that is imaginative, personal and that you feel great for doing it. Imagine doing this regularly. Here are 10 ways that Mindful Photography can help you to achieve this. 

  1. Learn how to use what you see as your anchor – In meditation the breath is often used as an anchor; the thing you return to when you notice sensations, thoughts or feelings playing out across your mind. A mindful approach to photography means that when you notice your busy mind you return to what you can see. Every time you notice that you’ve a busy head – planning the next shot, looking for a photo opportunity or just thinking about what you’ll be doing later – you return to what is in front of you. With this as your regular practice you will begin to see more, more of what is there and you will see more how your camera sees.
  2. Learn how to see like a camera – A camera does not know the name of anything in its viewfinder. You do. You are quite attached to the name of things. As Claude Monet said, “In order to see, we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.” Your camera sees light. You may describe the way light plays out in your frame as including shapes, forms, colours, lines, patterns, textures and space. You can learn to see the light, but you have to practice forgetting the name of things.
  3. Don’t look for a photo, let the photo find you – This is quite a slippery idea. Almost Zen like. There you are out with your camera, with the intention of creating photos, how can you not look for a photo? It’s a state of mind. You don’t look for a photo, you see what is in front of you. You pay attention to the visual feast; the light, the shapes, forms, colours…. You know what I’m going to say. Yes, seeing like a camera, is seeing what is there. That’s all. Trust me, the photo will find you.
  4. Develop your photography skills and knowledge whilst remaining connected to the visual feast before you – My mindful approach to photography starts with the seeing practice, but extends to a mindful approach to learning photography skills and techniques. My eBook Mindful Photography: How to use photography to develop mindfulness explains how.
  5. Learn how to express how you are feeling with a photograph – Photography can be used to explore and represent emotional experiences that are current or past. It can be literal, metaphorical or symbolic. Or it can just be a photo of something that resonates for you.
  6. Learn how to use photography to help you understand and accept your difficulties – The more that you practice mindfulness the more you discover about yourself. This can be challenging. The more you notice what you are thinking and feeling, the more you need a way to help process those difficult thoughts and feelings. Mindful Photography can be used to explore your world, your thoughts and feelings. It can act as the intermediary between your inner world and the outer one. Allowing you the space to process what you are experiencing. My eBook Mindful Photography 2: How to use photography to explore your world explains how.
  7. Develop patience in your world through understanding and accepting your development as photographer – The journey to mastery in any skill may take 10,000 hours (Malcom Gladwell in Outliers), but there are mindful photography practices you can follow that support this development. These allow the quality of patience to rise unbidden as you pay attention to the challenging thoughts and feelings that arise as you learn your craft. I’m sure you’ve experienced the thought, my photos are not good enough. A mindful approach to your photography can support you to recognise this thought and treat it like a relative you’re not too fond of. You acknowledge it, but don’t spend any time with it, returning to what you can see in front of you.
  8. Develop your ability to see the world as if for the first time – Beginner’s mind is a mindful attitude. It’s one that you can apply to the practice of creating photographs. If you choose to return regularly to the same location, to spend time slowly exploring the visual feast available, you may begin to see beauty which once eluded you. As John Updike said, you can practice, “Giving the mundane its beautiful due” . This ability, cultivated through photography, can support you to look at your daily experience with fresh eyes.
  9. Develop trust in your own feelings – If you are to create photographs that are personal, unique and authentic then you must listen to your heart, as well as your head: learn to trust and follow your own intuitive guide. If you cultivate this skill it will begin to seep through to the rest of your world.
  10. Bring mindfulness into another aspect of your life – Mindfulness does not have to be limited to the meditation cushion, that is merely the training zone. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “Mindfulness applied to any activity turns it into a kind of meditation.” By applying and developing mindfulness to photography we expand our potential to be fully present in our life. A mindful approach to photography can help you learn and develop your photographic skills, but it can also support your well-being. My eBook Photography for Well-Being 1 shares 15 photo activities designed to develop your photography skills and support your well-being. 

PS If this has intrigued you then you can find out more below and join me in a Mindful Photography Online Workshop 18:30 – 20:00 (GMT+1) Wednesday 29th July 

Mindful Photography Online Workshop

I have been developing and sharing my vision of Mindful Photography for the last 7 years; with online courses, live workshops and 6 eBooks. This workshop distills the key aspects of a Mindful Photography practice, providing clear explanations, examples and 10 guidelines for you to follow, to help you to become a Mindful Photographer. I will also be sharing how these practices can be used at challenging times to support your well-being.

Mindful Photography for these times will be online via Zoom and Eventbrite 18:30 – 20:00 (GMT+1) Wednesday 29th July 2020. Tickets are limited and cost £6.50

Register

Multiple Exposure Online Course

Over the last two years I have been exploring the ability of Multiple Exposure and Intentional Camera Movement photography to convey my emotional landscape and the photo that illustrates this post above is my favourite from this week’s experiments. I’ll explain.

Recent government advice in the UK to cope with Covid-19 has varied by country. I live in Wales and the guidance here has been more cautious than in England. This discrepancy has caused some confusion, probably because much of our media is anglo-centric. People have started being more expansive in their behaviour, but meanwhile those like me who are shielding are still advised to stay in as much as possible. This has caused conflicting feelings in my locked down mind. Primarily the desire to do more, to socialise and see my friends in a ‘normal’ manner, versus the need to continue shielding. My photo intends to convey these conflicting emotions. Does it work for you?

The photo was created in camera using Multiple Exposure (ME), dark mode and there are three exposures each taken on a 1 sec shutter speed with some small intentional camera movement (ICM). If you are interested in learning more about these techniques in a short online course do click on the invitation below so that I can later contact you with more guidance. There is no commitment at this stage, it is just for me to gauge interest.

If you would like to see a small collection of my recent ME and ICM experiments click here.

 

Criw Celf – Photo Workshops

Over the last two weekends I have delivered photography workshops to talented young people in Bridgend. This has been organised by Criw Celf and Arts Active, organisations who provide high quality art activities and experiences. My aim of the workshops was to encourage the young people to develop their photography skills: particularly to develop their ability to see a photo. All of the photos in this post are from them.

I planned to deliver the same course for different groups each weekend, and then adjusted the content to meet the students’ needs. The central theme and starting point of both weekends was ‘Seeing’ a photo. As Jeff Berner said, “Looking is a gift. Seeing is a power.” Seeing is more than looking and one of my key themes was to encourage the students not to look for a photo, but to wait for the photo to find them.

If this Zen like aim seems slippery then you are in good company. It is challenging to walk out with your camera intending to create photos, but not to look for a photo. At the heart of this instruction is the requirement to see the world, to really pay attention. To see not just the things, in fact even to try and not see and name the things, but to see the colours, shapes, forms, lines, patterns, textures, space, and of course light. In fact, to see like a camera.

Here is a great example produced by August, one of the students. This image sub consciously picked up on many of the compositional ideas shared in the photos of great photographers I started with. In an initial slideshow of these images I asked the students to decide whether they liked, disliked or were ambivalent about a range of photos. This photo from August seems to echo some of the ideas from Lee Friedlander and Vivian Maier, demonstrating how we see things without realising they have been absorbed.

Later in the session, for both weekends, I worked with the students to see what wasn’t there. This is one of the superpowers that a camera has, to see things that we cannot. The idea I challenged the students to ‘see’, was the creation of ‘landscape’ scenes in a multi-story car park by using slow shutter speeds. The motivation for this was the students’ self chosen theme for the weekend of ‘Landscape/Nature’, a challenging theme when situated in the middle of an urban pedestrianised shopping center. Here is a great example created by Lily, which we converted to black and white to enhance its otherness. It has the look of a charcoal creation and a sense of foreboding.

The students’ chosen work will be exhibited at Arcade, a professional artist run gallery in Cardiff city centre from Saturday 17th August and on Wednesday 22nd, Thursday 23rd, Friday 24th, Saturday 25th, Wednesday 28th, Thursday 29th, Friday 30th August. This will include the other arts shared at Bridgend – illustration and textile design as well as other art works from some of Criw Celf’s other Summer Schools.

Details: Arcade web link Address: Arcade, Queens Arcade, Queen Street, Cardiff, CF10 2BY. Unit 3b, by New Look, down the escalators.

Red Sea – Olivia
Life in Nature – Mia

Photography @ Elysium

Elysium have recently opened their fabulous new gallery in Swansea High Street. This Tardis like space currently holds the best of their Espy Photography Award 2019 and ‘Reflections on Identity following Brain Injury’ – an exhibition I have been intimately involved with.

The Exhibition opened last Friday and runs until 22nd June. Not only is there some fabulous and moving photography, there’s also a great bar. It’s a win win. Don’t miss out!

Jon, with his fabulous reflection photo

‘Reflections on Identity following Brain Injury’ is the gallery’s community space, known as YOURSPACE. This is how they explain the purpose of the space, “This is the first exhibition of our YOURSPACE series of activities. YOURSPACE (in partnership with local community groups) will be a dedicated gallery for showing work, learning new skills and social development. With the support of elysium gallery, this space will be led by the Swansea community. Aimed at community groups who create artwork as a developmental resource, the space will be an outlet for artists and groups on the fringe and champion the creative and independent sectors of Swansea. The space will become a focal point for community creative growth and a place that encourages and celebrates artistic and skills achievement.”

Dan’s opening speech

The BIS exhibition was developed from photo created during three of my photography courses with their patients over the last two years, and is project managed by Emma Brunton, a brain injury survivor. Great job Emma!

The aim of the exhibition is to make visible some of the hidden challenges people experience following brain injury. Brain Injury can affect every aspect of a person’s life and fundamentally affect their sense of identity. Survivors typically struggle with the question ‘Who am I now?’ The exhibition attempts to convey conceptually difficult psychological constructs as people experience life post brain injury. The exhibition includes representations of the self before the injury, immediately after and several years down the line. The work displayed attempts to convey people’s experiences using photographs taken by survivors following brain injury, through our use of filters, colour and sizing of photographs.

It’s an interesting, challenging exhibition that goes beyond many national and international competitions and exhibitions. Do go see it!

Huw Alden Davies’ short speech of thanks

Foundation Skills Course – Week 8 Letting the photo come to you

The final week of our Foundations Skills in Mindful Photography Course finally arrived. This week we recapped on all we had covered: What Mindfulness is; What Mindful Photography is, Clear Seeing, The Four Stage Seeing Practice, Compositional Skills and Abstract Photography.

When I say recap, I actually mean an incentive flavoured Q&A. Where the incentive was chocolate for every right answer. What’s not to like? Then, after softening everybody up, I provided them with their final Mindful Photography Practice. A deceptively difficult one.

Over the next 50 minutes they had to create just one photo that illustrated how they felt today. This practice is called Letting the Photo come to you, and invites the photographers not to look for a photo, but wait for something to suggest itself. In this task they had the opportunity to bring all the foundation skills learnt to the challenge, particularly remaining present with the the task and how it made them feel. Other limitations during the practice included no looking at the final photo and no deleting.

All of this was designed to slow down the experience and attune them to their practice. Mindful Photography in action. Here are their photos.

 

 

Foundation Skills Course – Week 7 Learning from the greats

This week we continued our exploration of Abstract Photography by looking at two great photographers who share a connection: Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White. Both men were inspirational leaders, turning photography into an art form.

Stieglitz was probably responsible for the birth of abstract photography through his creation of cloud photographs he called, ‘Equivalents’. For over 10 years from 1922 Stieglitz photographed clouds with the intention that they conveyed emotion. This was very much in vogue at the time in art – the idea that colour, shape and line could convey an emotional context.

Minor White, who for a while worked with Stieglitz, was very taken with the idea of Equivalents. He used it as a basis to develop his personal explorations of how scenes in nature could resonate with the photographer and enable them to create photos of how they felt at the time. He believed that these photos had no requirement to conform to known ideas of visual design, such as red for danger.

After a discussion about these ideas the students were invited to go out into nature and create their own equivalents. Here they are.

Foundation Skills Course – Week 5 Elements of Visual Design

After a two week break we were back to Mindful Photography this week. Building upon the compositional guidelines we explored last time, I introduced the seven elements of visual design that can be used to consider how a photo can be arranged.

The seven elements are: Shape, Form, Colour, Line, Pattern Texture and Space. We explored some ideas around each one and then I set this week’s task. Every student was assigned one of the seven elements with the invitation to practice using it as their mindful anchor. Not only to create photos that represented the idea, but to come back to the element when they noticed how busy their mind was or how they were striving to create a ‘good’ photo that illustrated the concept. A zen like challenge!

The two favourite photos from each student are below. Can you identify each element they were using?

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

 

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.

 

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.

I’m a Square Peg

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Steve Jobs

Let me be honest here. I do believe that I can change the world. There I have said it. I don’t see this bold statement as egotistical, the belief comes from a deeper place than that. It is something I have felt for many years. It predates my major change of life several years ago. I felt it when I imagined I could do it from inside the machine. It was only being spat out that provided the circumstances and the experience for the basis of this work. Now many years down the line, after several slow steps along the way to an understanding, I find myself at a place where I know what I need to do.

Many of you will know that this exploration of Mindful Photography I have been living this past five years is more than just a means of self expression, it has also been the practice that has supported my positive acceptance of the new world that has become my life post acute health crisis. It is this knowing that forms the basis of how I would like to change the world.

Change the world

You may be familiar with the Mindful Photography work I have been doing with Brain Injury patients over the last 7 years. Most recently this has included two 8 week courses with one group that culminated in the Course “Who Am I Now“.

This latter course specifically supports people who have experienced significant loss or great change to understand what they are living through and move towards a positive acceptance of who they are after this momentous life event. The courses have been particularly well received by patients and staff and we have three more scheduled.

During the last course we were also visited by staff from the Welsh Burns Unit, who see how the course could benefit their patients. They are currently considering how they could fund the work.

Delivering this course made me realise that this is the work I was born to do. I have the experience of living through great loss, finding the adjustment to the new version of myself to be close to impossible, and then finding a way that I could combine Mindfulness and Photography to live through, process and move towards a positive new life.

That I can now share methods to do this with others brings me great joy and significantly adds to my own wellbeing. Not only is the work to continue to deliver further courses, it has finally given shape to my desires to write a Mindful Photography book; the book I have had partly written for 4 drafts and 3 years now has a clear purpose and audience.

The work will also form the basis of a collaborative Photography Project with others who are working though the same process after their own significant loss.

How do I know I can change the world? I already have. Don’t just take my word for it, here’s feedback from a student on my last course.

“The course has helped me to begin to accept what has happened – it’s not bad, but a challenge. To open up to others, my thoughts and feelings through the photographs I have created.

I have learnt that I am not alone. I am in a group where I feel safe and secure. That I can relax, breathe and create beautiful, meaningful photographs. That I find peace and mindfulness in the little things.”

NB. The photo is from one of my favourite cafés in Swansea called Square Peg! It’s where I first saw the Steve Job’s quote at the top of the page.  They serve great tea.

 

Who Am I Now? – Week 8

Last Friday was a momentous day for our group. The last session of “Who Am I Now?”, the last one of 16 weeks together. For this course was the follow up the “Developing Mindfulness through Photography” Course. Two 8 week courses where much has been learnt, shared and experienced.

For our last week, in true teacher style, I led the group through a review of everything that we had covered and that they have learnt (hopefully!). This is worth sharing for those of you who may be curious.

This is what we cover in the “Who Am I Now” Course which focuses on using mindfulness and photography to explore who we are and how we are living after major change in our life.

  • Becoming Present – Mindfulness and Mindful Photography
  • Experiencing your thoughts and feelings – Creating photographs that express how we are
  • How is it now? – Exploring change and loss
  • Who are you now? – Learning to love and accept who you are now

We explore these areas through a variety of shared photos, thoughts, quotes, meditations and mindful photography practices. All of these lead the students to hopefully learn the following.

  • How to create photos of invisible things
  • Abstract photography
  • Using visual metaphors and symbols
  • Creating photos intuitively
  • How to face the fear (that accompanies the significant loss and change in life)
  • Loving yourself now (moving towards accepting how life is now )

The Final Week

After our review of the course I set the group a challenge. This particular mindful photography practice was one that was used by the innovative photographer Minor White. He favoured using this particular practice as a beginning for his students and sent them out with only this instruction (below) and their cameras. It is quite a challenging task, requiring self awareness and honesty. Ideal for the finishing group I felt, but challenging for Mr White’s new students!

Photographing your essence

“Venture into the landscape without expectations. Let your subject find you. When you approach it, you will feel a resonance, a sense of recognition. Sit with your subject and wait for your presence to be acknowledged. Do not try to make a photograph, but let your intuition indicate the right moment to release the shutter. Continue photographing until you feel the process is complete”

Minor White

Why not try it out for yourself? In the meantime here are the photos (below) from our group, minus the honest explanations that were shared in the room.

This has been a fantastic experience and I feel honoured to have shared it with the group. I would like to leave you with the thoughts of one of the students when asked to share something about how the course had helped and explain what had been learnt.

“The course has helped me to begin to accept what has happened – it’s not bad, but a challenge. To open up to others, my thoughts and feelings through the photographs I have created.

I have learnt that I am not alone. I am in a group where I feel safe and secure. That I can relax, breathe and create beautiful, meaningful photographs. That I find peace and mindfulness in the little things.”

Hafal Workshop in North Wales

On Monday I was invited to Snowdonia to deliver a mindful photography workshop for people who receive support from Hafal. The session was part of a whole afternoon that also included creative writing and was organised and funded by Literature Wales.

We were fortunate to have the use of Yr Ysgwrn a fabulously restored cultural and historical centre in Trawsfynydd, which is owned by the Snowdonia National Park. This is a beautiful part of the county and we were also blessed with a gorgeous day.

As this was my first session with the group this was very much an introductory session. I explained what mindfulness is and led the group through a short guided meditation. I then explained how photography could be used to develop mindfulness and invited the group to create photographs of colour in a beautiful surroundings.

After the session we wrestled with some technical challenges to save everyone’s favourite photos, but with tenacity we succeeded – and here they are!

Yr Ysgwrn Centre