I am writing a memoir that covers the last twenty years of my life. It’s a tale of middle age and Margaret Thatcher; how they led me into a health crisis and how I lived through it.
One positive event that came from this is Mindful Photography. What follows next is an excerpt from my memoir – a work in progress – that explains how it all started.
A Winter’s Day 2013. Photo Tales is done. Project complete. It has been a great success, but the funding was only for two years. Like most funded projects, it’s now dead. Back in my uninspiring room – buried in an industrial unit, backend of Swansea, in wet Wales – work is dull, with occasional rays of sunshine. Joanne, my colleague, helps to lighten the gloom, but I’m bored.
I’ve been working part time as a professional photographer for the last two years: weddings, family portraits and events. I know, on top of my full time job. Still trying hard to be good enough. However, my boat is not floating. I enjoy the social interaction and I’ve learnt to be more than competent, but it’s hard work. Stressful, and you know what that means – breathing issues. It’s not going to be a long term escape from the daily grind. Inspiration is required.
Sat at my grey desk, in my grey room, the words Mindful Photography spring to mind. I’ve been practicing mindfulness for a few years – could it be combined with photography? Was it an original thought? I google it.
Two hits. One, a photographer in Australia; book title, Capturing Mindfulness. Nice photos and famous quotes. Number two, a Dutch photographer offering photography workshops in the woods. Not clear how they were mindful.
If you enter the term into a popular search engine now and review the sites that are presented, you quickly come to a conclusion; there are many people offering their version of Mindful Photography.
I may be partly responsible. Since 2013, I have written and shared five eBooks, blogged on the topic, run online and live courses and workshops, and have practiced what I preached. One keen YouTuber called me a ‘stalwart of Mindful Photography’, and a popular UK national photography magazine interviewed me as a leading proponent. Google the term now and something from leeaspland.com usually pops up on page one.
But what is Mindful Photography?
I define it as mindfulness applied to and developed through photography.
Photography is an ideal mindful practice. It offers the opportunity for you to develop an ability to be present in the moment, to connect to your whole experience and therefore enrich your photographs.
Mindful Photography suggests that when you are out creating photographs, the visual experience becomes your primary sensory concern. You can be sitting or walking, observing your surroundings. Every time you notice that your mind has wandered off – planning a shot, dreaming of a photographic possibility, worrying about your ability or even just thinking about later in the day – you come back to the visual experience.
Notice your busy mind, return to what you can see in front of you.
This also has the potential to improve what you see and how you see. As Jeff Berner said, “Looking is a gift. Seeing is a power.” Your capacity to see everything in front of you can be developed. You can learn how you see. Learn how you interpret light, colour, shapes, forms, textures and patterns to make sense of the world. 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.
Ironic, isn’t it? I’ve developed a way of being through photography that supports my well-being. Simply put, it is about paying attention. Not paying attention is what had got me into this health crisis and now I was going to attention my way out of it. How was that going to work?