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.

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?

What is Zen?

“To study Buddhism is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self.” Dogen Zenji

OK, let’s start with a definition. Or let’s not! For that’s how slippery Zen is. For there are those that suggest that defining Zen is like describing the taste of honey to someone who has not tasted it. Sure you can relate it to other things, explain its texture, its colour and so on. But to taste it is the experience. The only way to know what it tastes like is to taste it.

It’s the same for Zen, it is an experience. But perhaps a little explanation would help. Here’s one from the website Zen Buddhism.

“At the heart of the Japanese culture lies Zen. Zen is, first and foremost, a practice that was uninterruptedly transmitted from master to disciple, and that goes back to the a man named Siddhārtha Gautama – The Buddha – 2500 years ago in India.

The practice of Zen meditation or Zazen is the core of Zen Buddhism: without it, there is no Zen. Zen meditation, is a way of vigilance and self-discovery which is practised while sitting on a meditation cushion. It is the experience of living from moment to moment, in the here and now. Zazen is an attitude of awakening, which when practised, can become the source from which all the actions of daily life flow – eating, sleeping, breathing, walking, working, talking, thinking, and so on.

Zen Buddhism is not a theory, an idea, or a piece of knowledge. It is not a belief, dogma, or religion; but rather, it is a practical experience. Zen is not a moral teaching, and as it is without dogma, it does not require one to believe in anything. A true spiritual path does not tell people what to believe in; rather it shows them how to think; or, in the case of Zen – what not to think.”

All clear now? Mmmm, I know it’s slippery. But at the heart of that definition is the knowledge that it starts with just sitting and extends out to all aspects of your life. Zen is mindfulness. It is the practice.

Perhaps the real question is why am I banging on about Zen?

Why Zen?

I will be very clear here. I am no expert, but I do believe that there is great merit in a Zen approach to photography. What do I mean? Zen is experiential. Zen is full and complete presence. Zen is paying complete attention to your present experience.

Everything I read about Zen reminds me of my mindful approach to photography. The foundation of Mindful Photography is clear seeing. Using what you see as your anchor, the thing that you return to whenever you notice that your busy mind has taken you into the past or future. In fact the 4 Stage Seeing Practice (that I share at all my workshops and courses) has as its first and second stages very Zen like features.

Stage 1 is all about anchoring yourself in the moment. It is a meditation upon your presence at your location. I encourage an awareness of the sights, sounds, smells, touches and what you can hear. This brings you into the moment. But it is Stage 2 that is most Zen like.

Stage 2 is all about the seeing. But it in the instruction that the challenge lies. I ask you to walk, to observe what you see, but not to look for a photo. It is this instruction that causes most confusion and resistance. After all why should you not look for a photo? That is what you are doing, looking for things to photograph.

Yet if you do not look, you will see more. How can that be? You will not be so limited by your mind’s interpretation of what would make a ‘good’ photo. If you keep yourself open to possibility, you may begin to dissolve that very strong drive of your mind to present you with things that you are familiar with or interested in. If you remain open and aware of this drive you may see more. You may see things that ordinarily you would have missed.

Of course what makes this practice most Zen like is that you will read this and you may not understand. It is experiential. You have to do the practice with the intention of following the instruction and an awareness of your mind’s tricks. Only then will it begin to make some sense when interesting sights present themselves, or you create a photo that in some way resonates with how you were feeling when you were there. A deeper connection develops and infuses your photos.

Zen Camera

David Ulrich has written a fabulous sounding book Zen Camera: Creative awakening with a daily practice in photography which is due out next March. He is an active photographer and writer whose work has been published in numerous books and journals including Aperture, Parabola, MANOA, and Sierra Club publications. Ulrich’s photographs have been exhibited internationally in over seventy-five one-person and group exhibitions in museums, galleries, and universities.

Here is a little bit about the book. Mine is on order!

“A beautifully illustrated guide to developing a daily photography practice that draws on mindfulness and Zen Buddhism. ‘Zen Camera’ is a photography and mindfulness programme that guides you to the creativity at your fingertips – literally – requiring nothing more than your smartphone or any other type of camera. You’ll learn how to use the camera in your pocket to explore self-expression as a photographer and produce photographs that are both wildly beautiful and unique. Gorgeously illustrated with full-colour photographs, David Ulrich’s lessons combine mindfulness principles with concrete exercises and the basic mechanics of taking a good photograph. He guides you through a programme of taking photos every day and also offers insight into the nature of seeing, art and attention.”

PS The Photos

The photos were all created during a Mindful Photography practice that centered upon a consideration of my Point of View. As you might be able to tell I created the photos on a wet day in a children’s play park (in autumn of course!). I spent around 30 minutes slowly walking around the space stopping at each piece of equipment to consider how I could create an arresting photo. Did I succeed?

In June 2016 I took part in the Edinburgh Photomarathon. It was a tricky competition as we were given disposable film cameras with only 12 exposures possible.

If you’ve taken part in any photomarathon you will know that you get given a number of topics, usually the same number of hours and have to produce one photo for each topic.

With a digital camera this is easier as you can practice, reframe, delete and create as many as you like before settling on one that you feel meets the brief. With a film camera you just have one shot, one attempt and limited creative control.

So when topic 4 was revealed to be
Cacophony my immediate thought was, ‘What the hell will I do with that?’ Kim (gf at time) and I headed towards Waverley Station, thinking well it’s bloomin’ noisy there, perhaps we’ll get ideas when we’re there.

As we approached the station I noticed a group of women, boisterous and all dressed similarly walking down the hill. ‘Hen do,’ I thought and imagined that they would be up for acting up and noisily for the camera!

After chatting to them to explain what was going on and establish that they were up for it, I explained that I was going to lie on the floor and that I wanted them to lean over and, on the count three, shout uproariously at me.

I had realised that I needed to fire the flash as well, as the sky was quite bright and otherwise they would have been in silhouette. I explained I only had one chance to get it right and counted down….. and they went for it!

My only disappointment was that the photo did not win the topic category as I felt not only was it cacophonous, but that it was also technically and compositionally tricky. Ah well, another opportunity to practice living with disappointment!

4 – Cacophony

Today is World Photo Day. What a great excuse, as if you needed one, to post a photo that means something to you. It is kind of a contest, there is a free option to post one photo or your can register and pay to post more. I believe some of the donation goes to sufferers of cerebral palsy.

My photo was created yesterday and resonates for me for several reasons. Firstly I was with the woman I love when I saw the opportunity and created the photo. Secondly it captures the sunshine and light available just for a short while, it was in between heavy rain showers. And finally it very much represents the style of photo that I like to create.

I love slightly abstract photos of well known subjects. I like to make use of some of the key elements of design. Shape – usually in the form of triangles is a big favourite, but also colour and line. In this photo all of these things come together to create a photo that reminds me of summer, of love and of beauty.

World Photo Day

Today I decided to follow a Mindful Photography Practice in response to this week’s Word Press Photo Challenge Elemental. This weekly topic encouraged us to respond to the four key elements: Air, Water, Earth and Fire. I decided that this would be most appropriate for me at the beach, as I live only 15 minutes drive away from one of the top beaches in the UK – Three Cliffs, and I would be in my element. I love the beach!

Air

As I wandered camera in hand I stayed present with the visual panorama and noticed my mind nagging at the difficulty of photographing Air and Fire. My response was to let the thought pass and return to what I could see. Then I looked up. The first photo of this set seemed an appropriate response to Air. Not only was the invisible visible in its movement through the clouds, our own contribution to the element, in the form of pollution was clear.

mindful photography - air

Water and Earth

At the beach it seemed apposite to include the Water and Earth together in a photo. After all is it not this interaction, wave on sand, that we most love at the beach? My favourite photo on this theme included me, foot and shadow, paddling through the warmish shallows. Though there were a couple of others I was quite drawn to as well.

mindful photography - water and earthmindful photography - water and earth mindful photography - water and earth

Fire

Of Fire there was none. I entertained storming someone’s barbecue and getting down low and close to capture the burning coals, but that idea seemed too ridiculous. It was only when I finished and reviewed my photos that I realised that I had a symbolic representation for Fire in the blazing lichen. Which of course also responds to Earth too. You can almost see the fire bursting through the cracks in the earth, like at the edge of volcanic activity.

mindful photography - fire

Finally

At Three Cliffs it is almost always necessary to visit the passage between two areas of the beach. This sea worn arch presents a teardrop view of the beach and its base looks different each time you visit. The tide takes and deposits sand, changing the passage base throughout the seasons. It seemed an appropriate watery and earthy note on which to complete this set.

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I spent an hour practicing being present in my local park, Singleton. I thought I would cultivate a beginner’s mind, perusing a familiar place, noticing what was there and attuning to the visual as if I were a camera; as if I did not know the name of things. Then you see what is there; the shapes, forms, colours, patterns, textures…. After that all there is to do is choose where to place the frame and decide upon the depth of field. Oh and maybe include a little bit of yourself, either literally or metaphorically!

If you are interested in how I actually set myself up for these practices, in ways that support the attention to the visual, whilst not being overwhelmed by the technical and compositional then these are the very things my online course (live in the Autumn 2017) will demonstrate.

Every week throughout the summer I will be posting a photography challenge that is designed to bring you into the present moment. They can be completed with any camera, even your phone. Your favourite photos are posted to our Facebook group, which is a public group so that you can invite your friends to join in.

This week’s mindful photography challenge is ‘Self’. I would like you to create just one NEW photograph that responds to the theme. But I only want you to press the shutter once. Consider your idea for a photo. Visualise it. Frame it. Think about your technical choices for exposure. Consider what is in and out of the frame. Consider your composition. Then release all expectation and press the shutter.

Notice your thoughts when reviewing your photo. Is there any judgement creeping in? Are you tempted to create another one? How would it feel if you just posted the one you have created?

Share your one photo here. This is mine which was created just now! I went to collect my camera from the lounge and caught sight of myself in the mirror. Generally when I create a selfie I do not have the camera clearly in sight. I thought I would create a photo that celebrated my relationship with the camera. Not only is my new camera front and foremost, but one of my favourite photos is in the background.

See what you can say about your ‘self’ in one photo

 

Every week throughout the summer I will be posting a photography challenge that is designed to bring you into the present moment. They can be completed with any camera, even your phone. Your favourite photos are posted to our Facebook group, which is a public group so that you can invite your friends to join in.

This week’s mindful photography challenge is ‘Through’. Take a walk somewhere you love and create just one photograph that responds to the theme.

The challenge is to only create one photo. To walk until something shouts out at you to be photographed.

Walk slowly and observe. Observe your surroundings, the colours, the light, patterns and shapes. Pay attention to your mind. When it shoots off thinking about creating the photo, reflecting on a past event or worrying about the future, come back to what is in front of you.

Share your one photo here. This is mine which was created this morning. The sunlight shining through the leaves, highlighting the structure and shape of the leaves is what drew me in. I only had my phone with me, but that’s all you need!

 

Having completed a few Photo Marathons now, I thought I would share a few tips to surviving (and thriving) at a Photo Marathon. I’ll be explaining what a Photo Marathon is, why you should try one and illustrating this post with the photos from my most recent event – the Bath Photo Marathon 2017.

What is a Photo Marathon?

A Photo Marathon is a test of creativity, endurance, photography skills and sense of humour. It is usually a competitive event, often with prizes, and takes place over a set period of time. A common format is 12 Topics, 12 Photos, 12 Hours. In that format you have to create 12 photos to illustrate the 12 topics, one photo per topic and they must be in topic order. You start with a clean memory card and complete with only the required 12 photos, unedited.

Why you should do one

A Photo Marathon is a test of your photography skills, knowledge and observation. It will test your stamina and resilience, but ultimately it is a test of your powers of creativity. It is worth noting that the 5 Creative Habits of Mind are described as: Inquisitive, Imaginative, Collaborative, Persistent and Disciplined. A Photo Marathon tests all of those habits of mind!

Taking part will fire your creativity, get you exploring a new city, introduce you to people with the same interest and challenge your photography skills. What’s not to like?

Ten Tips to Survive (and thrive) a Photo Marathon

  1. Read the rules and guidelines. Make sure you understand the timescale, photography requirements, locations, pick ups, final deadline etc
  2. Start with an empty memory card and a charged battery. Carry spares of both. Spare battery and charger will keep you in the game. Spare memory card means you can create other photos as you go (if you have the energy)
  3. Wear the appropriate clothing. Comfortable shoes, trousers that will get dirty and pack clothes for possible weather changes
  4. Enter the event with a friend. One of you has the camera, both of you fire off ideas at each other. Two heads are definitely better than one. You also get to spend time with that person and get to know how they think. Probably a good thing huh?
  5. Pace yourself. Make sure you build in breaks and refreshment; it is an endurance event. Often you are more creative during the first half, but more decisive in the second half. Excitement at the beginning creates more ideas and photos. Tiredness makes you more decisive.
  6. Aim to do a negative split. Be decisive in the first half and then you’ll be more creative in the second half. (That’s a running joke!)
  7. Decide on each final photo as you go. Do not leave that until the end, you’ll be tired. Do each topic in turn. Complete and choose the final photo and then move on. This provides creative clarity.
  8. Discuss and view topic photos together, but decide in your pair who makes final decision on choice of photo (usually the photographer)
  9. Use insider knowledge. It is helpful if one of you knows the city. If not then talk to locals. Ask for advice. However don’t let your knowledge or information about the city limit you seeing what is right in front of you.
  10. In a standard Photo Marathon with the same number topics as photos and hours choose a simple overarching theme to link the photos. Some use a prop to do this (like a mini lego figure who appears in every photo). Others use in camera processing (usually allowed) e.g Black and White. Or choose a theme, like a colour or technique – red or low/high point of view. Surely someone will soon submit a set using a drone camera, if they haven’t already!

Bath Photo Marathon 2017

I did this year’s Bath Photo Marathon with my old friend Simon. It was a great excuse for us to meet up – as Bath was kind of equidistant – and we got to catch up and have a few beers after.

Our photos are below. They are in the order given, the titles are underneath and have an over arching theme – Scarlet. Well, it was red really, but a little orange crept in! We had to create 20 photos in 10 hours. These were provided in two sets of ten, with a location to pick up the second half.

Our favourite photo after all this was the ‘Fashion’ photo. This best illustrates our collaborative process and sense of the absurd!

Your Entry Number

Contrast

Red

Looking through

Fashion

Fragment

Corner

Refreshing

Control

Crossing the line

Next Generation

Street Life

Movement

Self Portrait

Abstract

Missing

Found

Show off

Sign

The End!

 

We were once again fortunate to have another glorious day for my second Spring Photography Walkshop. Each of these walkshops involves some initial theory and discussion before I offer a photographic challenge and we then embark upon a 2 mile circular walk.

Saturday’s Walkshop centred upon a quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson

“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.”

Cartier-Bresson ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952

I then talked through two key approaches to communicating this ‘reciprocal process’. Broadly these split into the knowledge and skills we can learn and master and the confidence we can feel, at an instinctive level, to release the shutter without thinking through every technical and compositional choice. It is this balance between the conscious mind’s experience and its need to control, and our instinct to choose the right place to frame our photo that allows a connection between what we see, our mind and our heart.

This is not something that can be mastered at one workshop (no matter how good the tutor!). It’s a lifetime’s practice and one that is central to a mindful approach to photography. The online course I will be launching in September will offer resources, practices and guidance to support you on this journey.

The Photos

Our circular walk followed an urban route, through the back lanes of Brynmill. A nice counterpoint to Walkshop 1 that was all park and beach. Our favourite photos are below. Don’t forget the final Spring Walkshop is on 20th May – it will be a lot of fun. Book soon, there are only 4 spots left!

Last week I delivered my first photography workshop to visiting Chinese students. It was a large group of 37 keen and attentive learners and came with its own challenges.

The workshop was delivered at Swansea University, lasted a full day and provided some technological problems upon arrival. The visitors’ WiFi was not working, and as this was a smartphone photography workshop and the students would be submitting photos, WiFi was essential.

I began before the solution was apparent with an attention grabbing ice breaker, followed by 10 Smartphone Photography tips. We then covered ‘How to see a photo’, which is not as easy as it might appear. This centred upon the differences between how we see and how a camera sees and then explored some of the barriers to truly seeing what is in front of us.

Before I set the students their photographic challenge I went through 7 Elements of Visual Design to build upon their newly acquired knowledge of how a camera sees. We discussed colour, line, shape, form, space, texture and pattern. Fortunately during this period we had sorted out an alternative WiFi solution and were ready for the competition.

Photo Marathon

Over the rest of the workshop, with an intermission for lunch, the students were set a Photo Marathon challenge. This consisted of six topics and six photos in a limited time. The students were paired up and each pair submitted 6 photos to brilliantly illustrate the 6 topics.

The topics in order were:  Your Entry Number, Happy, Up, Blue, Look and New Meets Old. I was helped with all the downloading and labelling by Zhang Meng Yu (one of the students – thanks!) and my daughter India.

Once everything was collated India and I independently judged our top three in each category, then agreed upon our topic winners and overall winner. The 6 topic winning photos are below and a couple of photos of the winner and topic winners below that.

It is all happening again on Wednesday 5th April. Let’s hope it’s sunny this time!

My Entry Number

Happy

Up

Blue

Look

New meets old

The Winner

The Topic Winners

Did you miss it? My first Spring Photo Walkshop was last Saturday. But don’t worry you can still book in to the next one on the 22nd April in Swansea. More about that later.

Last Saturday’s walkshop was blessed by a glorious Spring day. What better way to spend the morning than out and about with your camera being challenged to create fabulous photos. Each of the students had a personal creative challenge! Each challenge involved a technical limitation (e.g. use one focal length), a compositional limitation (e.g. play with balance) and a theme (e.g. create photos that respond to theme Love).

We all then went out on a 2 mile circular walk – don’t worry a map was provided just in case – and I discussed and advised on the way round. The photos that were shared after our return (and the homemade cake and flapjack had been consumed) are below.

The next Photo Walkshop is called Inner Photos Outer World and explores the relationship between our inner experience (what we feel about life and the one moment we are living) and the photos we choose to create. I will share tips and techniques that will support you to create more personal photos that say something about how you are experiencing the world. As I write this there are still spaces, but they will be limited to a maximum of 8, so that I can provide personal tuition.

Vulnerability

In our fast moving, success orientated world it may seem that vulnerability is a weakness. Having worked in the vibrant hospitality industry and the results orientated education industry I am familiar with that perception.

My travels through the hierarchical world of management, from trainee to senior manager, certainly reinforced that view. Managers who reacted in ‘inappropriately emotional’ ways or had a ‘health crisis’ were often encouraged to follow different paths. Our learnt behaviour, through observation, was to be logical, determined and resilient.

Health crisis

My own health crisis occurred in the middle of my aspirational College career. I believed that I was on track to even higher levels of responsibility and was (almost) completely signed up to the accepted model of management style.

When I first became ill, I carried on. I worked for another 3 months, through a major inspection before succumbing to increasingly more challenging health. Whilst I was well supported by the College for over a year, once it became clear that I was unlikely to be able to return to my job I was encouraged to take a redundancy package.

Allowing vulnerability

Some eight years beyond that final departure, I began to see another side to vulnerability. I had finally begun to understand and accept my own choices that had led to acute health changes in my chronic condition. I  made the conscious decision to be open about my situation; to write about it here and to share my own vulnerability.

This allowing and admittance of a natural feeling has had two positive effects. Firstly, it has given me freedom to change my path. I have let things go. I have chosen to develop more supportive practices. Whilst this is still early days, by celebrating my authentic position I feel more myself, more rooted in core beliefs I am comfortable with. I can see that this change will provide the best opportunity to be healthy (as distinct from cured).

The second positive effect is that by sharing my own vulnerability I have given others permission to be vulnerable. I have received messages from others who have offered supportive words and related their own challenges. My friendships with other men have changed, deepened because a platform for discussion about difficulty has slowly developed. This has in turn further encouraged me that I am on the right path.

I am now two years on from that point and much has changed in my life and is continuing to change. The simple act of beginning to be open about my feelings has allowed more to surface. This opening in turn has changed my choices and decisions. My life has taken a new direction, and is still developing. It is like a stone thrown into the pond of life, the ripples spread out and out and continue to come. Eventually all will be calm, but perhaps the pond will never be quite the same again.

Vulnerability means facing up to my fears. Working towards understanding them. Working towards understanding why I make certain choices, why I behave in a certain way in particular circumstances. It is a doorway to greater self knowledge, and helps the development of fearlessness. You could say it is a superpower!

Vulnerability is an opportunity. By connecting to our own vulnerability, feeling it in our body and knowing it in our mind, we are one short step away from changing it from a perceived weakness to a strength.

Photographing Vulnerability

Photographing feelings and other invisible matters requires a few tricks. First up, you gotta have your imagination fired up. For me, that generally means before lunch and maybe just after a large steaming mug of tea! Then you need to consider your preferred working style. If you’re a planner, who needs to consider all props and conditions, then get out a notepad and start brainstorming. If you’re more intuitive and responsive, then take a look around. What is before you and how can you use it?

I think it was Walker Evans who believed that the photographer’s greatest tools were metaphor, paradox and oxymoron. Me, I do favour a visual metaphor and in terms of my style I lean more towards the intuitive, with a touch of planning.

I created the photo below at a community photography workshop a couple of years ago. Having spotted our box of lego mini figures my first thought was to represent myself (the photographer) as one of the figures by using the lego camera prop. After I had decided against any of the hair additions (there not being a thinning grey haired one available) I had the inspired idea to use the T Rex as a metaphorical ‘threat/fear’, creating a vulnerable position for the lego photographer. Then it was just a question of an interesting location, use of the available light and choosing the appropriate exposure. Voilà!

“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.” – Ansel Adams

I was looking for inspiration today and came across this fabulous quote by the landscape photographer Ansel Adams. His thought expresses a concept I have explored before and one that I shall be revisiting on my second Spring Photography Walkshop.

The relationship between your inner world – your thoughts and feelings – is one that must reflect your creation of a version of the outer world – the photograph, if you are to create a great photograph. You cannot separate the photographer from the person. The photographer is the person, and if your photographs are to say something of how you find the world then you have to allow that to shape and influence the photographs you create.

The photos I have included to illustrate this post were all created yesterday whilst practicing mindful photography. In that practice my intention is to remain (or return) to the visual whilst my mind shoots about. In that continuing practice I quieten and become more attuned to my outer world. The hope is that in this still place a connection between what I perceive and how it makes me feel is established. In that moment I press the shutter.

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” – Ansel Adams

Photography and the Web of Connection

I spent the summer of 1976 living with my Dad in Windsor, Ontario (Canada), a place I’d never lived before. He’d moved there a few months earlier and was able to get me a job where he worked.

My second part-time job that summer was teaching figure skating at the local arena. A few weeks in, the skating club had a “test day” – where skaters perform before judges to see if they’ve achieved the required skills to move to the next level. The cold and cavernous arena was filled with the chatter of skaters, coaches, judges, and parents all gathered for the big day. There was a sense of camaraderie in the air. When someone passed a test, you could hear joyful sounds of celebration and when they didn’t, you heard groans.

While I had been warmly welcomed by the skating community, it was clear on this day that I was an outsider. I didn’t belong. At least, I felt like I didn’t. Most of the people there had long established relationships that would continue long after I left. Surrounded by hundreds of people, I felt very alone.

Sometimes, we feel the most disconnected and lonely in a crowd.

Maybe you’ve felt this way too. Since I was a young girl, I yearned to connect in a way my family members and closest friends could not always satisfy. It wasn’t the kind of connection met by conversation or through sharing experiences or memories. It was another kind, but what was it? It took me years to realize what I was missing and how to fill it.

In fact, it wasn’t until I began to photograph that I discovered the very connection I was missing. When that first image of winter trees in my backyard appeared in the solution so many years ago, I felt an aliveness I’d never experienced before. The photograph was a tangible representation of my connection to a place. Those intertwined branches represented the inherent way everything is already connected. My camera was showing me how to be fully in the moment and to connect through my photographs.

“All my creation is an effort to weave a web of connection with the world. I am always weaving it because it was once broken.” (Anais Nin, Winter, 1942)

Ever since then, I’ve practiced reweaving my web of connection through photography.
My camera teaches me how to slow down (pause), pay attention (focus) and then connect with what’s there (click the shutter). It teaches me about myself, what I’m drawn to and what I turn away from. It teaches me how to engage, and most importantly, how to trust what I must share.

Every photograph is about relationship – between photographer and subject or between subjects within the frame.

I believe that we live in an interconnected, interdependent world and that the quality of the world and of our lives depends on the quality of our connections and relationships. We are unique individuals, but we are not islands. We are connected. We belong. Photography then becomes not simply a way to express myself, but that connection. A photograph is a symbol of relationship. It’s a visual Namaste, where something deep inside of you connects with the essence of your subject.

To give you an example, while in Chicago, I walked along the river one cool and rainy morning. Colours often stand out on these types of days. This was certainly true on this day as I found myself drawn towards two small, fuchsia pink leaves glued to the back of a lime green bench. They were slightly overlapping and covered with big, fat raindrops. The scene felt so tender, like one was comforting the other. The contrast of the two bright colours accentuated the feeling. I moved in close to focus on the two leaves against the lime green bench.This simple and minimal image shows what I saw and hopefully, what I felt.

10 Ways to Connect through Photography

1. Pause and notice what’s resonating inside. What stopped you?
2. Focus by looking closer with a soft and loving gaze.
3. Notice any judgments that come up and let them go.
4. See everything as a worthy and potential subject.
5. Open to new possibilities by changing perspective.
6. Welcome the unexpected. Let the photographs come to you.
7. Use all your senses in the experience.
8. Notice what you’re feeling.
9. Trust yourself and what you value.
10.Share yourself generously.

We are all forces in this world with the potential to connect and contribute. Each one of us has something to offer. Get to know what you value and what matters most and you will begin to live out your purpose. Nothing needs to be added to make your life more interesting. Instead, eliminate what’s not important and follow your instincts. Your life will be richer and more rewarding, and you will have a greater impact on others. Everything you do and say and create matters.

Kim Manley Ort is a photographer and workshop facilitator. You can connect with her through her website, Facebook page, or on Instagram. The photographic exercises in her book, Adventures in Seeing: The Camera Teaches You to Pause, Focus, and Connect with Life, will help you to tap into a deeper awareness of yourself and the world around you. You’ll rediscover your own connection with a world fully alive, a world where you belong and have a place.

One of the key areas I explore in Mindful Photography is how mindfulness opens a door to a connection with your feelings, and how you can choose to communicate those feelings with photographs. The short answer to how you can do this is twofold. Firstly, develop a knowledge of how to apply visual design principles to convey an emotion or mood. Secondly, through allowing an intuitive response to what you photograph to inform your choice of how to frame your photo.

The long and detailed answer is part of the landscape I will explore in my forthcoming Mindful Photography Online Course. In the meantime I leave you with a question. How can you learn and hold all the technical and compostional ideas for great photography and also allow a connection to how you feel about the scene or experience before you? It is in your answer to this that you will create photographs that truly say something about you and your life.

By way of illustration I include here a few photos from my recent retreat in the Brecon Hills. How do they make you feel? Why do they stir those feelings in you? I will be reflecting on my retreat experience in a future post.

 

The following post has been generously shared by Alan Wood and details his own exploration of mindfulness and photography

A Personal Journey to Mindful Photography by Alan Wood

I have been a photographer since, as a child of 7 or 8, my grandfather gave me his box Brownie camera. Over time other cameras followed but I eventually found that work and then family commitments were such that there was very little time, or perhaps energy, for actual photography. But I did read books and magazines about photography, its equipment and techniques. I would daydream of being like my photographic heroes, going where they went and capturing the sort of images they did. However, when I did get out with my camera the reality seldom lived up to the dream and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I was frequently disappointed with the results. I became increasingly frustrated until, after many years, there came a moment of crisis.

I was on holiday in Devon, out for an early morning walk with my camera before the rest of the family woke up. I stood on a footbridge across a stream in a beautiful wooded valley trying to find a composition for a photograph. But my mind was in turmoil, thinking, thinking, thinking about the camera, its settings, the lens to use and the right technique, and beyond that to where I was going to go next, what I was going to have for breakfast when I got back and on and on. I felt as if I were not really there, completely separated from my surroundings. Even the camera in my hand seemed to have become a physical and mental barrier to my being able to see the reality of what was in front of me. The frustration became unbearable. I stopped and there and then vowed that I would not take another photograph until I learnt to see and to be truly present with what I was seeing. I kept that vow. I put my camera away and also stopped reading the photographic books and magazines through which I seemed to have been living vicariously.

There was of course more going on in my life. The relentless pressure of my work, amongst other things, brought me close to breaking point. Then, one day during a lunchtime browse through a bookshop, I came across a book, called “Teach Yourself to Meditate” by Eric Harrison. On the back cover I read “Many people are turning to meditation as an effective way to relax and bring inner peace.” I thought that I could certainly do with some of that and bought the book. I soon established a practice of daily meditation. I would get up early and in the quiet of the morning sit for 20 minutes, following the breath as my focus. I quickly found it invaluable as a means of calming the mind and becoming grounded and ready for the day ahead (although I have since discovered that meditation goes much further than that).

After a couple of years I decided I would like to go on a meditation retreat. That brought me to Gaia House, a retreat centre in the Devon countryside for my first silent retreat. I was nervous to start with, fearful in case my self taught meditation practice was wide of the mark. Fortunately it wasn’t and I benefited from the deepening of my practice. There then followed further retreats including a one month silent retreat attended during a sabbatical from work, a prelude to a run down and eventual early retirement.

Influenced by my meditation practice, I was finding that I could now go for a walk and, being mindful, see and experience more directly what was around me, aware too of my emotional response, to be present in my surroundings.

I wondered then if I was ready to pick up my camera again. I did and tentatively started to re-engage with my photography. The camera no longer appeared to be a barrier to seeing and I found that I was able, not only to use the camera to reflect something of my response to what I was seeing, but also to be more focussed on that seeing and to be more deeply engaged with it. I am grateful for that and am enjoying my photography more than I have ever done. I don’t see the final image so much as a goal in itself (although I do get a sense of satisfaction if I produce an image with which I am happy and if that image is appreciated by others) but rather as part of a process from the mindful seeing, responding and then using the camera and even the post processing on the computer to reflect that response.

I am now at a point where, as well as it being a reflection of my response to what I see, I would like to use my photography to explore how my inner world affects that seeing. And who knows where that will take me.

Below are three simple images from one of my retreats which I feel reflect something of my emotional response to the seeing.

Aber Taiko are a community drumming group based in Swansea. They were founded in 2015 and have over the last year been on a year long journey to discover and develop their Taiko soul.

Last night they performed with their teachers, collaborators and friends at Volcano Theatre to a sold out enthusiastic audience. Fortunately I was invited by my friend Yannis (one of the group) to create a visual record of the night and my favourite dozen photos accompany this post.

The evening was a great success; the drumming echoing through our beings to shake roots and fire imaginations. If you get a chance to see them perform do go along, or if you are interested in drumming then visit their website and drop them a line.

 

In these smartphone days the camera we always have with us is usually the most pocketable one. I do have a high end compact phone and a brick of a DSLR. Sometimes I do have one of them with me. But I always have my smartphone camera.

I get it. The best camera is the one we have with us and smartphones do have pretty reasonable cameras, limited but ok in reasonable light. I post a smartphone photo a day to my Instagram account. I like the creative limitations imposed by the phone, it’s wide angle and levels of technical control make me think about innovative composition.

All the photos below were created with my compact Xperia Z3 and edited using Snapseed. Fancy sharing your favourite recent smartphone photo?

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