Look at the things around you, the immediate world around you. If you are alive, it will mean something to you, and if you care enough about photography, and if you know how to use it, you will want to photograph that meaningness.Paul Strand
I have, without knowing it, been on a quest to express meaningness in my photos for many years. It is only in the last few years that I have realised this. My mindful approach to photography has been an attempt to put “My head, my eye and my heart on the same axis” (Cartier-Bresson). It is an essential foundation of emotional connection, one that allows me feel what I am experiencing, and for that to seep into my photographs. But there was more to be understood.
In my early years as a photographer my abiding desire was to produce photographs to represented what I saw. I predominantly worked in social or documentary genres and developed my technical and compositional skills to be able to share what was there; to tell a story or represent an experience. My exploration of contemplative, and then mindful photography, developed from a frustration with those genres. I was looking for a purpose or meaning to my work, beyond keeping the customer satisfied.
My development of a comprehensive mindful approach to all the technical and compositional guidance (see my online course: Photography for Well-Being) was a response to an emotional disconnect, and fueled a desire to create photographs that expressed how I felt.
Alongside this time in my life, I started to move from being an emotional disconnected middle aged man, to someone who acquired a slow developing awareness of his feelings. I am, like all of us, a product of my time, culture and experiences and to do this I had try out new activities, whilst still practicing mindfulness daily.
Then, during my Mindful Photography developments, I discovered the work of Alfred Stieglitz; Equivalents and Minor White; Equivalence, both of whom explored how they could express thoughts, feelings, ideas and personal experiences through their photography. This opened a door; both use nature to communicate their intentions, both were influenced by their colleagues, culture and experiences, and they were both pointing the way forwards.
More than a Rock
Then I discovered the book, More than a Rock by Guy Tal. Finally, someone who spoke to me and for me. As he explains, “I consider myself not just a photographer, but also an expressive artist, meaning among other things, that I wish for my photos to convey emotions.”
Guy Tal’s intention is to spend time in nature and create expressive photos that are more than aesthetically pleasing, but also convey something of the view or place’s inward significance to him.
In sharing our work our goal is…to express to viewers our inner feelings about – or through – the things we photograph; to inspire our viewers to experience their own sense of meaning and discovery….by composing and presenting what we saw as to imply its significance worth discovering beyond just being visually attractive or interesting in some objective sense.Guy Tal
How do you do this? Has that question popped into your mind? I know that it has been on my mind for some time. I am still in the process of gathering ideas, information and opinions about how you do that. That is a book in itself and would, I believe, include the following: technical competence (let mastery of your camera and editing software come with time and practice); compositional choices (both following guidelines or instinctively ignoring them and responding viscerally to what is there); mindfulness (being completely attuned to your environment, your general demeanour and your response to the place); really seeing what is there (The Four Stage Seeing Practice); having a clear (but loosely held) intention about why you’re there and what you’re trying to do; and developing an emotional connection with yourself and the way that your location makes you feel.
Then all you need to do is practice!
Yesterday I went out with the intention of visiting a place that I felt could represent some of my recent thoughts, feelings and experiences. I have of late been immersed in both literary/artistic research and personal consideration about how I feel about aging. I am now 60, and whilst I do not feel much different, I am aware I am older.
Even the language we use to describe the passage of time in our life is fraught with connotations. Which would be appropriate to use: old, older, senior or elder? When is old age? Am I old? Is that just relative to where you’re standing? If you’re 80, I’m still young. If you’re 20, I’m old.
All this, and more, has been whizzing about my mind of late. Then I realised that it was early October; approximately 3/4 through the year. Perhaps, I thought, I’m 3/4 through my life? Would a forest at this time of year be something that could represent my age, and my feelings about it?
So I decided to go out to a big local woods, find a single location that spoke to me (a la Minor White) and stay there for a while, noticing how I felt, what thoughts arose and what my eye was drawn to. I have chosen the five photos below because they best represent my experience whilst there. Of course, the interesting thing is what they convey to you, how they make you feel. I’d love to hear back from you.