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

 

Who Am I Now – Week 7

Week 7, the penultimate week was all about love. Ahh! And all you need is love, don’t you? This week was the cure for the two previous weeks, which focused on Fear. Love is the antidote to fear, both holistically and chemically. Love produces oxytocin which is the natural antidote to the cortisol produced when we are fearful. See, all you do need is love!

Our first week on love centred upon the greatest love, love for oneself. If we can be compassionate for ourselves, fully accept and love ourselves then we have more space and capacity to love and be compassionate for others.

However this is not always easy. In the midst of our struggles with our own difficulty, swamped by fears, we may find it difficult to access love for ourselves. As a stepping stone to this the students spent a week creating photos of things in their lives that they were grateful for. The practice of gratitude supports the softening towards acceptance of our life as it is. If you would like to read more about this try this.

As a practice in reflecting what we love about ourselves the creation of self portraits is a challenging but great start. We looked at how photographers have represented themselves in photos. From the earliest of film days through Vivian Maier and Lee Friedlander to the modern take of creating selfies. All that was left was to create some of our own. Here are some of our favourites.

Who Am I Now Course – Week 6

This week we built upon our discussions about loss and change. Specifically we focused on fear and how this emotion causes  physiological changes in our bodies. If you would like to read all about this here’s a link to my post on the topic.

One of the key features of fear is that it causes the body to release a cocktail of chemicals that get us ready to fight or flight. The problem with our modern world is that some of the stressful events that cause this physiological change do not require us to run away or fight, but instead to respond skillfully, instead of in our normal habitual way.

The challenge is that we are often unable to access the logic and reason we require – our limbic system (the oldest part of our brain) has kind of hijacked our mind to enable the fight/flight action without interference. So the key question is how can we keep calm and develop the ability for clear thinking in a crisis?

What we need to do is to “redirect our attention in ways that build some of our strengths in what we love, so that we can be with our fear”. To remember that we are connected by love to a whole world. To remember our strengths. Then we can find access to a positive mental state. How do we do this? (More on this next week)

There are many practices that develop this. One that I shared this week that the students started is a Gratitude Practice. In our mindful photography version the students created photos of things, ideas or feelings for which they were grateful. They shared their favourite ones with the group and they’re below. They are also going to continue this for the week.

If you would like to read about the science behind a Gratitude Practice try this

Who Am I Now Course – Week 5

This week began the final half of the course with an exploration of how we are living now.

Often we live attached to an image of ourselves from a few years earlier. Most of us like to imagine that we are younger than we are and not admit that we are getting older. This gentle but relentless change is a challenge to us all.

However, if we experience a major change that includes a significant loss then the adjustment to this life event is even more challenging. All of the students on the course have experienced a major loss. Brain trauma happens immediately and life is unlikely to ever be the same again.

Any major loss in our life: health, relationship, loved one, job, career leads to grief, and a cycle of adjustment we know as the Grief Cycle. We may well know that the stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. We may also know that they are not linear. However it is unlikely that we will find it easy to live.

Photography provides a means by which we can create photos that illustrate how we feel. It also can be used on an ongoing basis as part of an exploration of how we are experiencing our life. Next week we will be looking at one of the engines of our struggles to adjust to great loss: fear.

After a long discussion about change, loss and grief, an opportunity to reflect how this made us feel was required. The Mindful Photography Practice we all did invited the visual contemplation of a tree, and the creation of photos that illustrated how we felt. Everyone took their time and then shared their favourite photos, and why they had chosen them with the group.

Here they are.

Who Am I Now Course – Week 4

This week was all about the application of knowledge and skills learnt in the first 3 weeks and was an opportunity to get personal.

We were all invited to consider a barrier in our life, particularly one that was current. These barriers would generally be things that we are not comfortable with and would like to be different, but quite often the first thing we need to do is accept how it is now. This is particularly challenging when we would prefer the world to be different to how it is.

Every photo below was created in less than an hour in response to this invitation. They are personal to each photographer and represent the emotions caused by the barrier or the barrier itself. Every student opened themselves to this process and shared with the rest of the group what the barrier was and what the photo represented. This is powerful and important work. I congratulate you all on your bravery and honesty.

Who Am I Now Course – Week 3

This week I took the students understanding of abstract photography a step further and expanded their appreciation of using photographs to illustrate how they feel.

After a general introduction that discussed the use of elements of visual design (space, form, colour, line, pattern, texture and space) to influence how a photo makes the viewer feel. I illustrated how our cultural interpretations evoke particular ideas and feelings, for example the colour red represents danger, fire, war, power etc.

In addition to this we discussed how an element of visual design can produce a personal resonance, evoking specific memories particular to the photographer. This relationship between the view/scene and the photographer’s emotional experience when viewing the scene is fundamental to the production of great photography.

Stieglitz and White

To explore this territory we visited the work of Alfred Stieglitz (Equivalents) and Minor White, who was heavily influenced by Stieglitz’s work and produced a famous response – Equivalence: The Perennial Trend.

Both photographers explored this territory. Stieglitz was the first to demonstrate how other objects could represent human emotions with his photographs of clouds. This was his response to the critic Waldo Frank who maintained that his portrait photographs were only great because of the power of the subjects.

Minor White took this further, into the realm of the personal response to a scene, particularly one in nature. He liked to photograph scenes and objects that he felt a deep resonance with.

After examples and discussion and the students were encouraged to produce their own ‘Equivalents’, photos that represented how they felt and a particular time and place. They were then asked to select one to share and discuss with the group, explaining what the photo meant to them and how it made them feel. Here they are.

Who Am I Now Course – Week 2

Week 2 starts the process of considering how we can represent our thoughts and feelings through photography. The beginning of this appreciation begins with a bit of creative fun; the creation of abstract photographs.

This week we considered what Abstract Photography is and I shared some ideas for their creation. We talked a little about metaphor and symbolism as many of the students are already experimenting with this. And we also looked at the role of the seven elements of visual design (shape, form, line, colour, pattern, texture and space) and the desire to move beyond the labelling of what we can see.

“In order to see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.” Claude Monet

I shared two key tips and here they are:

  1. Rotate your photos. Looking up them upside down dissolves your ability name the objects and increases your ability to see the elements of visual design.
  2. Don’t delete your photos whilst you are creating abstract photos. When you go out with the intention of creating abstract photos take your time. Create one photo and review it. Look at it upside down. Notice your thoughts, particularly your judging mind. If you like the photo ask yourself what it is that you like. If you don’t like it ask yourself why, investigate those thoughts and feelings. Consider each photo as a signpost for your way forward. Deleting whilst you are creating implies a snap judgement and you are in new lands, your judgements may change. Be open to possibility and don’t delete until much later. Maybe even after you’ve downloaded and waited a few days.

Our intrepid photographers created 2 photos each to share with everyone else and here they are. As you look at them ask yourself how they make you feel.

Mindful Photography Course – Week 8

This was the final week of our 8 week development of mindfulness through photography, and along the way create some fabulous photos. This week we covered two more mindful attitudes: Acceptance and Non-Striving, shot a little video of the some of the students sharing their experiences on the course and had some lovely cake (provided by the students)!

Just so you don’t miss it, I’m going to start with the video which shares some honest and enlightening tales of what was experienced on my Mindful Photography Course. Here it is

 

Acceptance

Mindfulness encourages us to see things as they actually are in the present moment. As the present moment plays out, we practice noticing our feelings, our physical sensations and the thoughts that flit across our mind.  It may well be that we don’t actually like what we are experiencing. We may try to avoid, distract or just deny the experience.

Acceptance is the quality that allows us to be with all the difficulty, without turning away. Acceptance encourages us to turn towards the difficult experience. To sit with the feelings, sensations and thoughts, allowing them to ebb and flow and slowly, bit by bit allowing them a little space in our lives.

When we experience major change or loss in our lives we often find that accepting how things are now beyond difficult. The loss we are trying to understand may have left us quite different physically, mentally and emotionally, in comparison to how we were before it happened. We may be attached to an idea of who we are that reflects how we were, rather than how we are now.

Processing this major change may take us a long time and there is much difficulty to work through. The Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle that was developed to illustrate our adjustment to the death of a loved one is also applicable to any other major change or loss in our life. We have to live through the Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression before reaching Acceptance. And whilst these are often described in linear fashion they are not always lived so clearly. We may move between the various stages, hopefully slowly moving towards acceptance.

Carl Rogers (psychologist) wrote: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

As applied to photography

Photography can help us live through these stages, creating photos that illustrate how we feel, when we are feeling it. Last week I set the students homework to go out with their cameras when they were experiencing great emotion and create some photos. Not to look for particular scenes, but to simply walk and create what called out to be photographed.

Each student then shared their favourite photo and we reflected upon how it made us feel. Here they are.

Non Striving

Non striving is non doing and was the second Mindful Attitude we looked at. Meditation can be described as a non doing activity – if that is not a contradiction. We sit and we be. We are present and we are ourselves. What we experience we pay attention to. We may choose to return to the breath when we notice thoughts flit across our minds. We are non goal orientated.

Now this is all fine and dandy in theory. However, we live in a ‘doing’ culture. We have grown and developed in a society that values action, activity and succeeding. We need to feel that we are doing stuff and that we are ok. So when we begin to meditate we do see it as an activity, something to do. We must do our meditation. We must do certain things to ensure that we are doing the meditation correctly. We choose a certain place, time of day, length of sitting, structure to follow and so on. Then we try to get this all ‘right’.

Often then, especially as we begin meditating, we may feel discouraged. Our mind is incessantly busy. We don’t experience any quiet. Or we may choose to notice experiences that reinforce our belief that we are doing this meditation thing right. We may experience feelings, colours, great peace and any of these confirm our confident belief that we have got this meditation thing cracked. We are either doing it right or wrong! Either way we are doing it.

So how do we move from doing meditation and mindfulness to being and non striving? There is a blurred division between doing and being. In meditation we set out to meditate, we are doing the activity. But it is in our approach to being present with our experience, of non striving, of being non goal orientated that we move to being in the moment. We achieve this by paying attention, that is all. We pay attention to our present experience, we come into the present moment and we stay with our anchor – the breath or seeing (mindful photography) – we become what we already are, a human being.

As applied to Photography

Non striving as a concept applied to photography is a fine aspiration. As photographers we are very attuned to the processes we must follow to create a great photo. Our attention to technical and compositional choices is fundamental to the creation of a good photograph. But a great photograph requires something of us, something of our soul, something of who we are. To create memorable photographs we must marry the technical and compositional with our intuitive heart. How do we do this? By being in the moment.

That fine dividing line between doing and being is present at the moment of visual creation. The decisive moment that we choose to press the shutter is a moment that we are not holding tightly to our doing. We know, on a practiced and confident level, that we have made the right technical choices. Our practice and training has equipped us with the skills to flow into creative compositional choices of the visual elements before us. All of this is not at the front of our mind as we simply rest in the moment of creating a photograph. We allow the photo to come into being. This being in the moment encourages an instinctive connection with our feelings, our very essence becomes part of our created photo. To photograph is to be, wholly and magnificently, in the moment.

The students were given the challenge and practice of creating just one photo. BUT (and yes it is a big but) they had to walk and not look for that photo. To create a photo without looking for a photo is not only very zen, it’s a fabulous practice and one that can be spread out over a day.

The striving part of our mind wants to make sure that the one photo is a ‘good’ photo. We may have preconceived ideas about where to walk and what we will see. The practice is to notice these thoughts and to return to what can be seen. To simply walk and trust that an opportunity will manifest. Here are their photos.

 

Mindful Photography Course – Week 7

The home stretch! This penultimate session carried on with our consideration and development of mindful attitudes through photography and we started by reviewing the photos created by the students for their homework. After that we looked the mindful attitude of Beginner’s Mind, before setting more homework around Acceptance.

Homework – Rightness and Wrongness

Last week I finished by setting the students a mindful photography practice for homework. The goal of the practice was to notice our habit of judging our life experience. We are constantly evaluating how the world is treating us, and this usually manifests as a judgement that we either like or dislike what is happening.

From this habit we then try to repeat the things we like and avoid or deny the things we dislike. All perfectly reasonable you might think, that is how life is, but not always helpful when we can’t control what is happening and we are looking to reduce the stress in our life.

There is a middle way. A noticing that we have made a judgement, taking a few breaths and being with how it is. Feeling those emotions playing out in our body. Noticing the thoughts around avoidance creeping in. And breathe! Slowly the feelings and thoughts will soften and then dissolve.

It is a lifetime’s practice, but how can we work with this habit photographically? We make the same judgement about every photo we create. We either like them or dislike them. What if we were to create photos that were good or right and another set of the same scene that were bad or wrong?

Can we look at the different photos of each subject, notice how they make us feel and consider whether sometimes the wrong photos are more interesting than the right ones. What you need is some photos to compare. Below you will find the pair that each student chose to share.

Beginner’s Mind

The cultivation of a beginner’s mind is an intention. We resolve to receive each moment as if it was the first time we experienced it. (Which it is!) We imagine that the sensory information we are experiencing is fresh and new to us. We really notice what it is that we can see, feel, smell, touch and hear.

When we are sat meditating the object of this intention is often the breath. To sit and experience the breath as if for the first time is to alert our senses to where and how we feel the breath in our body. Its cool entry at our nose. The gentle rise and fall of our stomach. The subtle expansion of our chest. The sharpening of our senses brings us into the experience and roots us in the present moment. To expand this practice into other areas of our day and life supports our intention to be mindful.

The trick is taking this sensory experience and developing it in situations and environments that are familiar. This is a re-tuning of our senses. A conscious decision to notice. We may choose one particular sense to work with or simply remain open to what our senses reveal.

The very essence of this practice brings us into the moment, encouraging our presence within our current experience. In photography this can be explored as part of a mindful photography practice. Our intention within the practice is to notice the visual experience as if for the first time. And that is what we did!

Each student was encouraged to return to a location they had used before and to imagine that it was the first time that they had been there. Then to create some photos that represented that experience. Below you will see each student’s favourite photo from their mindful photography practice.

Homework – Acceptance

I finished by introducing the mindful attitude of Acceptance and then set the students homework around this challenging area. To find out how they got on call back next week!

 

Mindful Photography Course – Week 6

Week 6 took us in to new territory! After a recap of what we had covered to date (Seeing and composing photographs) We started a new topic: Mindful Attitudes.

In 1990 when Jon Kabat-Zinn published his book Full Catastrophe Living (the backbone of the MBSR Course) he included 7 attitudes that help to underpin a mindful attitude to life. They were Non Judging, Beginner’s Mind, Patience, Acceptance, Trust, Non Striving and Letting Go. In later additions of the book he added more: Gratitude and Generosity.

I believe that there is one more essential attitude: intention

Intention

Intention is the commitment to turn up for yourself. Your intention is what sets you on the mindful path to developing your self awareness to find more ease, freedom, and peace. Intention is the doorway to those other mindful attitudes: non judging, patience, beginner’s mind, acceptance, non striving, letting go, trust, gratitude and generosity.

Making mindfulness an intention is a beginning. Intentions are found in the present, so just by making one, you have already accomplished what you set out to do. An intention cannot fail, because it happens right now. With an intention, there is no required result—we are simply connecting to our chosen course. “I’m just going to practice, and see what happens.” Therefore we invite curiosity, a sense of experimentation: “Well, this is interesting, I wonder what’s going to happen now?” Intention has strength, as its rooted in reality, but also suppleness—holding to an intention doesn’t mean our actions can’t change, based on what we discover.

Ed Halliwell Mindful.org

The Practice

I then set the group a practice. The aim of the Mindful Photography Practice was to understand the difference between a goal and an intention.

An intention happens in the present. A goal will be achieved (or not) some time in the future. The intention of the practice, was to do the practice. Easy, huh? The goal was to produce five photos that illustrated all four compositional themes: Balance, Subject and Background, Point of View and Simplicity.

My last words were is does not matter if you do not achieve the goal. Remain with the practice.

The photos

Upon return each student chose two photos to share. They may have achieved the goal or not. The only criteria for choice was that they like them. Here they are.

Mindful Photography Course – Week 5

Week 5 built upon the Photography Composition skills we learnt last week. This time we looked at the Elements of Visual Design.

There are seven to be aware of that are relevant to photography. They are: Shape, Form, Line, Colour, Texture, Pattern and Space. After some explanations and examples everyone was challenged to choose just one of the seven and create some photos that illustrated its use.

This is more difficult than it sounds, because the students also had to not look for a photo; to walk and observe what they see. This is a tricky proposition, to see, but not to look. It is of course a mindful practice, almost zen like!

The students reported back different experiences: frustration, excitement, disappointment were all common. This is normal, in fact it is great that the feeling experienced is noticed, for that is the practice. The photos are a useful, hopefully interesting, outcome.

Each student then submitted two photos that illustrated their theme and we had to guess which one it was. This was not always easy, as most photos contain more than one of the elements of visual design. They are all presented below in pairs. Can you identify the theme for each pair?

Mindful Photography Course – Week 4

The halfway point of our 8 week exploration of Mindful Photography saw an investigation into mindful composition.

Now I know that composition is a huge topic, one that books delve into in great detail, but I had 2.5 hours. So my intention was to summarise the key concepts (or guidelines) and then encourage the students to choose one of those to use as their anchor, whilst practicing the 4 Stage Seeing Practice.

Now this is a tricky proposition, but it is a practice. The students were asked to choose one of 4 compostional themes: Balance, Subject & Background, Point of View, or Simplicity. Each one contains several elements and the students also had the option of including one of those.

Then all they had to do was find an interesting location and create some photographs. After everybody returned they each chose to share their favourite photo, and talk about why they chose it. Here they are.

If you or your organisation are interested in a Mindful Photography Course for your team, participants or students take a look at the Course Page and get in contact for a chat.

 

Mindful Photography Course – Week 3

Week 3 was our second week looking at Clear Seeing. In particular this is about establishing Seeing as an anchor; the foundation of our Mindful Photography Practice.

To do this we use the 4 Stage Seeing Practice: an activity that encourages us to use Seeing as an anchor in the same way as we can use our breath when we meditate. So we walk and we do not look for a photo. We observe what we see. We notice what we see. When something catches our eye we stop. We pay attention to what it was that stopped us. And before we press the shutter we consider where we are going to place the frame. Then we press the shutter and move on.

Throughout this practice when we notice our mind shooting about – thinking about photos, thinking about whether we will be able to create a ‘good enough’ photo, thinking about ourselves doing the activity – we notice and return to what we can see. It is a practice.

A Small Space

The Mindful Photography Practice (photo activity) we all followed this week was called ‘Small Space’. In this activity everyone chose a small space to remain and walk around for 40 minutes. 20 photos were created, composed through the viewfinder (or screen where this was not possible) and not reviewed after creation!

Only when we returned to the classroom were we allowed to review the photos. During the review stage I encourage everyone to notice their thoughts, particularly the judgemental one, ‘I like that one. I don’t like that one.’

Everyone then got to share and talk about one of their photos. Here they are.

 

Mindful Photography Course – Week 1

This week I started the delivery of my 8 week course in Mindful Photography for Morriston Hospital’s Brain Injury Service. I was particularly excited to start this as it is the first occasion I have delivered in this format, although I have worked with the service delivering other provision since 2012.

My intention over these 8 weeks is to introduce the students to mindfulness, meditation and mindful photography. The aim of the first week is to provide an overview of those topics and start the practice of slowing down the speed at which we create photos.

Slow Down!

Digital cameras are fantastic in many ways, but your disposable relationship to the photos created has underpinned a disconnection to the present moment. When I used to shoot film there were a limited number of shots on the roll. I could not see what I had just taken. The cameras were often manual. I had to attend to what I was seeing, and to what I was doing with the camera, to be certain that I was creating the best representation of my visual experience. This meant that the process of creating several photos was slower than it is now.

Now you can take eight photos per second. Take fifty of a scene, review them instantly and discard the ones you do not like. Throughout my courses and workshops (online and live) I encourage a greater attention to this experience and share mindful photography practices designed to slow you down and truly connect to the visual moment.

It was entirely appropriate then that the first activity I shared in Week 1 is called ‘Slow Down’. In this practice (I call the photography activities practices because it implies that you don’t have to get then ‘right’ and that they can be repeated, again and again) the students cannot see the viewscreen and have to imagine what the camera is receiving. They are also only allowed to create 10 photos in a set period of time. All of these limitations slow the process down, or encourage a slowing down! Some still find it challenging.

The Photos

After the activity the students return to the class and look at their photos for the first time. During this process I encourage an attention to the thinking that is taking place, particularly the judging mind that reviews each photo and determines whether it likes or dislikes a photo. This is the first time of many that I relate the mindful photography practice to life. For your judging mind, and its interpretation of experiences as ones you like or dislike is echoed in the ‘Slow Down’ Mindful Photography Practice.

Each student then chooses one photo to share with the group and we all follow a ‘Creative Review’ mindful practice where we practice connecting to how the photo makes us feel, rather than critically reviewing its composition or technique. Of course those critical thoughts also pop up, but the practice of connecting to how the photo make us feel is a foundation for future mindfulness and mindful photography work.

Here are the students favorite photos. How does each one make you feel?

Why I created a Mindful Photography Course

Did you miss me?

Sorry I’ve been a little quiet for a couple of weeks. I’ve been a busy boy! Yes, my online courses go LIVE on pre-sale Tuesday 26th September. Whey Hey!

There will be a FREE Introduction to Mindful Photography 4 Day Challenge to kick it all off.

AND there will be a 33% discount and a Bonus Bundle for the first 20 subscribers on the full course – Mindful Photography 1 ‘How becoming mindful can help you to create fabulous photos’ – in that first week of sales.

There will be lots of info about that in the next few days. Keep an eye on my blog and the online course page for when you can find out more and enroll.

In the meantime I thought I would share a little bit about how I came to create this course and particularly why Mindful Photography.

Why Mindful Photography?

Since 2000 I have been discovering what is true; what is real for me. It has been a significant period of my life, which has been dominated by a health challenge that started in 2006, remains chronic now and has re-shaped the course of my life.

Back in 2000 I was married with two young children and working successfully at a Further Education College in Swansea, South Wales, UK. I was established in middle management and was a little obsessed with long distance running.

Somewhere along the way that voice that you all have, that tells you that you are not quite good enough as you are, got a lot louder. I blame Margaret Thatcher. She is an easy scapegoat. I am sure that I still had that nagging voice back pre Thatcher, but it all got a lot louder as the idea that you are all individuals and can achieve anything you want with hard work took strong hold.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I do believe in the idea of working hard and achieving your dreams. But there is, as in all aspects of your life, a balance to be struck. Somewhere in the early nineties in the UK this balance seemed to begin disappearing underneath the desire to prove that we were all working as hard, and achieving as much as we could. Performance culture was upon us.

In the world of Further Education this manifested as students being seen as ‘units of resource’ rather than young people who were learning how to make their way in the world. Measurement of performance came down to statistical analysis of retention (keeping the imps on course and in college) and attainment (ensuring that they passed the damn qualification they enrolled upon). These performance drivers along with stronger financial controls, devolved budgets, delegated management responsibilities and technological developments changed my working culture.

I embraced it all. I became the poacher turned gamekeeper. No longer the lecturer who was talented, but only just did enough to ensure all his boxes were ticked and then turned it on for the inspectors. I became a focused, organised and driven manager. And I had aspirations. So immersed was I in this striving culture that I was convinced that my future was in the highest echelons of college management.

Alongside this and running in obsessive parallel was my desire to run a marathon in under 4 hours. This all started with a manly challenge from my friend Simon. Back in the mid nineties I jogged just to remain fit enough to play football. I was in my thirties and loved 5 a side football. I occasionally jogged with Simon and we generally covered 3 miles or so at a steady pace. One day, halfway through our route we started talking about the upcoming Swansea 10K and Simon suggested that we enter, “Of course you couldn’t expect to beat me. I am eight years younger than you.” he said.

He was right – in the first year. After that I determined to prove him wrong and I did, getting faster each year and then graduating to longer distances. We did half marathons together, but Simon (wisely) balked at the idea of a marathon. Whereas I developed three month long training schedules, ran on through the weather and pain and ignored the fact that after 20 miles my body cried ‘enough’.

Consequences, there are always consequences to your choices. I started to get warnings. In 2004 I got lost in time when running through the Andalusian hills; completely focused upon the desire to find a circular route through the hills I lost track of time and scared my family into thinking that I had fallen into a dirty ditch.

When running on Swansea Bay beach one fine winter morning in the same year I kept banging my chest to clear my breath. I thought nothing of the constriction.

In the spring of 2005 I had an anaphylactic shock on the eve of the Edinburgh Marathon; literally on the night before. It took a few hours to settle back down to normal and my sleep was disrupted. I got up in the morning and ran the race.

Later that year I had my first ever injury playing 5 a side football. I tore my calf.

In the early autumn of 2005 when out training with a work colleague she told me that my breath sounded louder than normal.

Later during the autumn of 2005 I had five cold viruses with barely a week or two of stable health between each. I carried on running and working through them all. My tongue looked like a map of the Lake District, with dark patches representing the lakes.

Each time it registered briefly, then left me. The possibility that my body was struggling to cope did not pass through my conscious mind. I was not paying attention.

It all came tumbling down in January 2006. During a lunchtime training run from the College, running back up the hill, my throat suddenly closed up. I could not get the next breath in without stopping. I paused, realised that continuing to run up the hill was out, and walked slowly. I have never run since. My breath is permanently compromised. I have scar tissue on my trachea that has reduced my capacity to breathe. My vocal chords are swollen and my voice is one that is ideal for late night radio. Whilst this is now OK and I lead a full and engaged life, the intervening ten years have seen a lot of difficulty and every aspect of my life has seen major change.

My online courses in Mindful Photography are inspired by how mindfulness and photography supported me through those years of challenging health. How they provided me with a creative outlet and a means by which to explore my life choices, my habits and behaviours and to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be a human being.

I find it ironic that it was not paying attention that has led me to the practice of paying attention!

Why an online course?

Back in 2014 I thought of creating a course in Mindful Photography. I did not believe that what was available in the field of contemplative photography really supported both the development of brilliance as a photographer and the self knowledge that mindfulness opens the door to.

So I created an email course that was loosely based upon the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (the sutra first shared 2500 years ago by the Buddha) and inspired by more recent understanding by the medical community, and specifically the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) created by Jon Kabat Zinn.

The email course went pretty well and left me keen to expand it into an online course. My first attempt at this was a DIY effort using WordPress templates and it all fell apart after a few months (the website, not the content!)

Since then super smart content management software and companies have come into the market and it is with one of those (Teachable – very easy to use) I have developed my new course. It follows the structure and content of the email course, but includes new areas of mindful photography development, over six hours of videos, 14 more photography activities and a private Facebook group to support the students, share photos and discussion.

If I have intrigued you, keep an eye on the blog or sign up for the free eBook below and then you’ll get regular information from me.

I hope to see you online very soon!

What is McMindfulness?

I first heard the word ‘McMindfulness’ a few months back. It is being used to describe the increasingly popular application of the word mindful to other activities. For example: mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful anything. There is an element of sarcasm attached to the ‘Mc’, implying that everything is becoming mindful these days. Of course both this opinion and the McMindfulness term are bandied about in the media just to increase sales or website traffic.

What about Mindful Photography?

Whilst I develop my online course in mindful photography I reflect upon my research and sources. Initially, I hope that what I create will be an extension of my own meditation practice. I am aware of mindfulness from several Buddhist books aimed at the western reader and from them I understand that mindfulness, at its root, is about being present in the moment. One could be mindful about whatever one was doing: reading these words, washing the dishes or taking a photograph.

I am also aware of the secular re-interpretation of mindfulness as a practice for stress reduction (MBSR) and for depression (MBCT) and its adoption by organisations and businesses as a support for stressed workers.

I think it is fair to say that I my Online Course in Mindful Photography is a personal reflection of how mindfulness can be developed through photography. Initially I was influenced by the practice of Contemplative Photography, but I felt that it did not go far enough to support the photographer who wanted to improve their photographic skills as well as create mindfully.

I am also aware that mindfulness is most effective when supported by a whole life approach, such as the eightfold path. To say that mindfulness is a panacea for all the stress caused through work is rather too simplistic (politicians and media commentators). One does not have to become a Buddhist, but an exploration of what the eightfold path might look like reflected in one’s own life can only help to support a balanced and harmonious life.

Course Developments

This website centres upon the development of mindfulness through photography. This manifests through a mindful blog and my Online Course that will launch in September 2017. The course will include innovative resources and mindful photography practices that support a mindful approach to photography and life. It will both apply mindfulness to learning photography and help you to develop mindfulness through your photography! It will also support you to start an investigation into how photography can support personal enquiry into your life.

McMindfulness may be a media backlash to the exponential growth in interest and application of mindfulness. But let us not forget that this wisdom is 2500 years old and will still be around when we are long gone. Mindfulness is a support for your busy life. Its suggestion that you remain aware of your sensations, your thoughts, your feelings and the one thing that you are doing now is a reminder of how you can be completely present in your own life. And that can only support you to live an engaged, holistic and authentic life.

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