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10 tips to slow down your photography

Mindful Photography in action

Digital Photography is fantastic. Its ability to capture what we see and allow instant review has revolutionised photography. It has changed how we create photographs and how we edit them. But perhaps the most fundamental change is that it has supercharged the creation of a photograph. Photographic creation and sharing is now like a Ferrari 812 Superfast. Back in the film days it was more like a classic mini.

Now, using a digital camera you can take eight photos per second. Take fifty of a scene, review them instantly and discard the ones you do not like. It is this that has fuelled a disconnect with the experience of what you see. You know that you can take lots of photos, at no cost and reject all the ones you don’t like. You pay less attention to what you are seeing, and crucially how you are framing the photos.

By applying mindfulness to photography you connect through the visual to the present moment. You walk with your camera – not looking for a photograph but noticing what you see – everytime you notice your busy mind, you return to what you can see in front of you. The seeing becomes your anchor, just like the breath when you meditate. This also has the potential to improve what you see and how you see.

The practice of clearly seeing everything that is in front of you is something that you can learn and develop. You can learn how you see. You can learn how you interpret light, colour, shapes, forms, textures and patterns to make sense of the world; and you can begin to understand how a camera represents the same scene. Then, with practice and contemplation of the photographs you create, you can begin to hone your ability to create photographs that represent what you see.

Maybe you still hanker for that classic mini experience. We are currently experiencing a growing interest in film photography. Perhaps there are elements of that slower pace, more engaged process and almost ritualistic nature that we are missing from the digital experience. However, there are ways of experiencing a film like experience with your digital camera, ways of slowing the process down and re-introducing some ritual.

In a desire to provide you with techniques to connect you with the creative experience, I offer you the following 10 tips to slow down your photography. This slowing down is a fundamental element of becoming more mindful with your photography, of becoming a Mindful Photographer.

10 Tips to slow down and connect with your photography

  1. Turn off your review screen or tape a small piece of card over it – Just like a film camera you can’t see what you have just created. This assumes you have a viewfinder to compose the photo. If  you don’t you could still follow this tip and shoot blind, imagining what your camera is receiving.
  2. Limit the number of photos you create – go filmic with a 12, 24 or 36 limitation
  3. Use a small packet of sweets or nuts to count/remember the number of shots you have used – Count them out before you start. As you can’t see the screen (Tip 1) use 12, 24 or 36 sweets/nuts in a little bag. After every shot eat one sweet or nut. It’s a win win!
  4. Limit your location area – Combined with 1, 2 and 3 this encourages you to really notice what is around you. Limit the area to a 100 meter square area, or less if you are feeling bold.
  5. Turn your lens into manual focus – Turn off the auto focus. It is a great art re-learning how and where to focus, and it also slows you down!
  6. Shoot from the hip – Now this one could actually speed you up. But if you hold your camera at your hip, and compose by imagining what your camera can see, you will slow down. Especially if you combine it with 1 and 2.
  7. Return to the visual – Whenever you notice your mind thinking about your next meal, tonight’s activities or some aspect of photographic skill, STOP and return to what you can see in front of you.
  8. Do not download or look at your photos for at least 2 days – Back in the film days we had to wait. Unless you were developing your own film, but even then it took time. I used to send my film off for developing and then wait a few days before looking through the returned photos, hoping at least one was a keeper. So, wait for a few days – at least 2 – before downloading. When you do look through them, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Notice the judgement and the commentary.
  9. Set your own mini photo marathon – Randomly choose 4 words, set aside 4 hours and create 4 photos in order, to represent the words. Photos must be in the word order and you must finish with only 4 photos. You could limit and slow yourself even more by ONLY shooting 4 photos. No deleting.
  10. No deleting allowed – Closely linked to number 2, do not allow yourself to delete any photos. Knowing that you cannot delete will encourage choice: whether to photograph or not, and this will slow you down.

PS The three photos accompanying the post follow some of these tips

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Evolution

The feeling of an evolution is a constant for every artist who is pursuing the search of refinement and enlargement of his/her own means of expression.

Andrea Bocelli

Living a mindful life encourages an attention to the moment, a paying attention that inspires the development of skillful responses to difficulty rather than an habitual reaction. The wisdom that underpins this is hard won: a product of falling over many times, noticing what caused the fall and then getting back up hopeful that the next time an enlightened response will emerge.

I have learnt over several years that there is a complementary, contemplative partner to this intention. Creating space and quiet to allow periods of reflection supports the embedding of my hard won wisdom. As I have mentioned in previous blogs I irregularly do this on retreat in the Brecon Hills, but recently I have also recognised that there is a simpler, more integrative version I can create in my life.

Both the retreat and the simpler version allow two things to happen. On a conscious level I can reflect and consider what I have been doing over the last few months, what has worked, what hasn’t and then look at what is emerging in the near future that may provide opportunity. On a subconscious level creating space and not thinking about the past and future, just sitting with how the day is and what is in front of me, provides opportunity for deeper understanding and connections to develop.

This simpler version is a slowing down or a stopping of all the doing: all the striving to achieve, complete and develop the next thing. The activity that is driven by the judging mind. The mind that queries whether what you are doing is enough, whether it’s good enough and whether you will have enough. In the slowing down, in paying attention to slowing down and in then moving towards doing less or actually stopping there is the potential for a freedom. Sure that voice may still be heard, but I just endeavour to notice it, breathe, attend to the space and the feelings that emerge beyond that judging mind.

This is a mindful practice itself. Choosing to honour it over the last two months has I believe allowed understanding, certainty and ideas to emerge. An evolution in my creative practice has become known to me.

Evolving Creative Practice

I first became serious about photography 11 years ago. Around the same time I also started exploring Mindfulness. In 2013 I started looking at how to combine them. Now I know what Mindful Photography is, how it can support my life and more importantly how it can support your’s.

This has been a creative evolution. I know it has not been quick and I know that it is ongoing. However, the place I find myself now is one of clarity and certainty. I now know what my creative purpose is and how to make the next step. Beyond that it is still an adventure, but that’s just as it should be.

I have over the last 4 years been writing a book about Mindful Photography. In its early drafts this was part memoir and wholly how mindfulness and photography could work together to enable you to create personal, resonant photos. I was never able to complete the book. I always felt like there was something missing. I knew that much of the content showed an original approach to photography and also started to address how to live a mindful life, supported by a creative outlet. But it just felt a little off and I couldn’t see how to finish it.

Instead, I put it to one side and created an Online Course from some of the content. That launched a year ago and I sold a few courses over Europe and North America. Although it was competent and detailed I never felt that it was quite the thing I needed to be doing. It never truly resonated.

Over the last year I also started teaching Mindful Photography to people who were recovering from Brain Injury. I did this through my two courses; ‘Foundation Skills’ and ‘Exploring Life’. It was this experience that fundamentally shifted my understanding of what I was doing and why.

Delivering learning and supporting people who were living through great change in their life helped me to realise that Mindful Photography was a fantastic resource. It has the potential to enable everyone to explore and understand what has happened in their life and then support them to move towards an acceptance of who they are now.

When any of us experience significant loss it can shake up our world and who we think we are in it. We can be attached to who we were before the loss and not realise that our world has changed so much that we are no longer quite the same person. The loss leads to grieving, whatever that loss might be. The grieving may follow the path of anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but in its early days we not even be aware what is happening.

Working with people who were living through the Grief Cycle made me realise that Mindful Photography could provide a way of exploring how life was now, of expressing through photos how they felt and therefore of supporting the processing of the massive change that they were living though.

It was only when I stopped striving, limited my creative doing, just did what was necessary and gave it all a break that this realisation dawned. I now know what my creative purpose is. Through sharing Mindful Photography I can help people live through major life change. I have a focus for my book and working life. The working title of the book is ‘Who Am I Now? – Using Mindful Photography to live authentically through major life change’. This has changed my understanding of who the book is for and of who I am working for.

This understanding has immediately born other fruit. I now have a clear appreciation of the kind of photos I want to create. I want to create photos of people who are living through major change, after a significant loss. I envision a series of diptychs, each two photos side by side. One that represents the subject’s life before the loss, and one the illustrates who and how they are now. Each photo will explore the multiple layers of self and each will reflect upon the other.

The project fits so seamlessly into my other creative work I wonder how I did not see the possibility before. Really, I know. I was too wrapped up in the world, to engaged in the doing to see the potential creative arc. Now it is visible and known, it seems like it was always there. The benefit of creating some reflective space has been cathartic and significant for me. How could it benefit you?

 

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Cefn Coed Hospital Heritage Project

Over the last couple of months I have been supporting ‘A Mental Picture’ an ABMU Health Board Heritage Project in Partnership with Swansea University & Swansea Museum. My role has been to provide photography guidance and support to the people who come on our tours of Cefn Coed Hospital in Swansea.

Cefn Coed Hospital building work began in 1928, utilising Unemployment Relief schemes. The hospital was opened in December 1932 by the Princess Royal (the daughter of King George V). At its peak it provided care for up to 600 patients with mental health issues and was almost self sufficient.

The hospital is due to close and its role in the Swansea Community is being curated and celebrated in an exhibition at Swansea Museum in 2019. The photography tours I have been involved in have been provided to enable interested members of the public the opportunity to create photographs that capture something of the hospital’s history and place.

My Photographs

When I have been on site and had the opportunity to create photos I have taken a particular approach. My intention has been to create a representation of a living, working building. This challenge in an empty closed building has been to integrate the passage of those exploring the site, but to throw their detail into distortion. This represents an echo of the buildings’ previous occupants, in an ethereal light.

The three photos that accompany this post represent my most successful outcomes of this intention to date. I would be interested to hear what you think.

 

 

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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.

 

Creating Space

In my efforts to live a more mindful life I have noticed (and the noticing is a fundamental part of this practice) that sometimes I reach a place when I am uncertain what is next. As a guy who is quite focussed and keen to develop my work in line with the way I am living, I get a little uncomfortable when I find myself adrift like this.

I have been in such a place for a while now. To some extent this was masked by busy-ness. Isn’t that always the way? Whilst we are busy and active we think all is OK. The activity, the action and the achieving all contribute to our sense of purposefulness. Underneath this drive to do there may well be an absence. It is only when we stop that we begin to notice that all is not as it appeared.

Actually, I had an inkling of this and I had noticed that I had not written a blog like this (mindfully reflective/thoughtful!) for sometime. My posts had been either reports on courses delivered or activities experienced.

Now my work has slowed I have noticed this and more. I have also noticed that I haven’t written a newsletter for 2 months. The last post I wrote that was about living mindfully (not course related) was in April. The question now I have noticed is, ‘What does this all mean?’

The answer is not completely clear yet. My intention is for my work and life to be as integrated and harmonious as possible, whilst still providing income. Over the last two months I have been delivering my new course, ‘Who Am I Now?” – which supports people to explore who they are after experiencing great loss or change in their life. Whilst I have been delivering this I have been aware that this is the work that I want to do more of. I relate directly to it, I have lived it and found a way of using photography to support myself to explore and accept it. Sharing this with others is what I want to do more of. That much is clear.

How I do this and what I focus on are the parts I am now working on. I have some ideas, but as they are not completely clear I have created some space for them to develop and solidify. You may have noticed that the website has changed. I have removed my online course, Start Here page and videos. Whilst these things were relevant they always felt like aspects I was trying to do because others were, rather than what my deeper knowing was telling me to do. By getting rid of those services and information I have created space for something to flourish.

My experience of creating, promoting and providing an online course has proved to me that whilst I can do this it is not the medium that I feel most at home with and I think that this affects the quality of my work. The online course is still live and supported for those who purchased it but it is no longer open for enrollments.

My strengths are in teaching – face to face where possible – in writing and of course in creating photographs. I am going to focus on those things. My inclination at present is two fold. Firstly, to further hone the “Who Am I Now Course”, and to offer that to other groups who would benefit from the skills shared.

Secondly, to develop the ideas and materials into book form. I am not certain how this would be offered, but I am currently considering the traditional publication route, self publication, and even a mobile friendly PDF version.

There you have it. Into the space are ideas and intentions. There is also the possibility that something else might emerge. I am going to attend to this wholeheartedly for the next month and then do something that I haven’t done for 30+ years, take August off! If you have any ideas for me please let me know, otherwise stay tuned for future developments.

I shall leave you with a recent photo. This was shot in Cardiff a month ago and will be exhibited as part of Disability Arts Cymru Annual Exhibition at Celf O Gwmpas, Llandrindod Wells next month (more news soon).

On the Edge of Summer Loving

 

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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.”

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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

 

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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.

Shape of Light

I recently went to London for a consultation with the eminent throat surgeon Guri Sandhu. I am fortunate to get to see this leader in Larynx reconstruction and even more fortunate to be supported on the visit by my girlfriend. Whilst we were there we stayed an extra night and took in a few sights, including the fascinating abstract art and photography exhibition Shape of Light at the Tate Modern.

For those of you with a curiosity about how we can shape light to create photographs where the subject is secondary and the interest is in how the shapes, lines, tones and patterns might make us feel, this exhibition is a must. It explores 100 years of photography and abstract art looking at those who have transformed reality, or have used photographic materials to create images with little obvious reference to the real world.

“Shape of Light reveals photography’s role in a wider history of abstraction……Throughout the exhibition key paintings and sculptures reveal the changing relationship between photography and abstract art.” (Tate Modern). The exhibition is on until 14th October 2018.

Here are a few of my photos taken at the Tate Modern inspired by the experience.

 

 

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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

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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.

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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.