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Criw Celf – Photo Workshops

Over the last two weekends I have delivered photography workshops to talented young people in Bridgend. This has been organised by Criw Celf and Arts Active, organisations who provide high quality art activities and experiences. My aim of the workshops was to encourage the young people to develop their photography skills: particularly to develop their ability to see a photo. All of the photos in this post are from them.

I planned to deliver the same course for different groups each weekend, and then adjusted the content to meet the students’ needs. The central theme and starting point of both weekends was ‘Seeing’ a photo. As Jeff Berner said, “Looking is a gift. Seeing is a power.” Seeing is more than looking and one of my key themes was to encourage the students not to look for a photo, but to wait for the photo to find them.

If this Zen like aim seems slippery then you are in good company. It is challenging to walk out with your camera intending to create photos, but not to look for a photo. At the heart of this instruction is the requirement to see the world, to really pay attention. To see not just the things, in fact even to try and not see and name the things, but to see the colours, shapes, forms, lines, patterns, textures, space, and of course light. In fact, to see like a camera.

Here is a great example produced by August, one of the students. This image sub consciously picked up on many of the compositional ideas shared in the photos of great photographers I started with. In an initial slideshow of these images I asked the students to decide whether they liked, disliked or were ambivalent about a range of photos. This photo from August seems to echo some of the ideas from Lee Friedlander and Vivian Maier, demonstrating how we see things without realising they have been absorbed.

Later in the session, for both weekends, I worked with the students to see what wasn’t there. This is one of the superpowers that a camera has, to see things that we cannot. The idea I challenged the students to ‘see’, was the creation of ‘landscape’ scenes in a multi-story car park by using slow shutter speeds. The motivation for this was the students’ self chosen theme for the weekend of ‘Landscape/Nature’, a challenging theme when situated in the middle of an urban pedestrianised shopping center. Here is a great example created by Lily, which we converted to black and white to enhance its otherness. It has the look of a charcoal creation and a sense of foreboding.

The students’ chosen work will be exhibited at Arcade, a professional artist run gallery in Cardiff city centre from Saturday 17th August and on Wednesday 22nd, Thursday 23rd, Friday 24th, Saturday 25th, Wednesday 28th, Thursday 29th, Friday 30th August. This will include the other arts shared at Bridgend – illustration and textile design as well as other art works from some of Criw Celf’s other Summer Schools.

Details: Arcade web link Address: Arcade, Queens Arcade, Queen Street, Cardiff, CF10 2BY. Unit 3b, by New Look, down the escalators.

Red Sea – Olivia
Life in Nature – Mia

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

 

Mindful Photography Walkshop – Wordy Challenge

At the end of May I held my last Spring Mindful Photography Walkshop. We were once again lucky with the weather – three walkshops in wet Wales in a row with no rain! We had an interesting challenge set, but before that I shared tips on how to stay present and create fabulous photos.

The Challenge

The Wordy Challenge was a mini photomarathon. Five topics. Five Photos. 2.5 hours. In this challenge everyone has to create only five photos, in topic order and be back at the finishing point before the ending time. I split the topics into two sections, so that we did two in the first hour and then stopped for a cup of tea (refreshment is essential!). After a cuppa and a conversation about how it was going, we embarked on the last three topics, completing an hour and a half later.

Such a photography challenge is very focussing. It provides the opportunity to become very present in your environment, and aware of the thoughts and feelings that the task is allowing to arise. These in particular are interesting and will include concerns about your photos not being good enough, whether your ideas are creative enough and how well you can manage the time. Hopefully, you can also practice being attuned to how you are: your energy, the need to stop and reflect, and remaining present in one task before the next. All great practice for life!

Before we started I provided a short overview about some of the photography techniques that could be applied to create interesting and arresting photos. These included the Seven Elements of Visual Design (Shape, Form, Texture, Pattern, Colour, Line and Shape) and the four areas of photographic composition (Simplicity, Subject & Background, Balance -including the Rule of Thirds, and Point Of View).

Finally before releasing the photographers into the wilds of Brynmill I shared five tips to complete the challenge with great photos and feeling great. Here they are.

Five Tips

  1. Make sure you understand the timescale, photography requirements, locations, pick ups, final deadline
  2. Excitement at the beginning creates more ideas and photos. Tiredness makes you more decisive. Be decisive in the first half and then you’ll be more creative in the second half.
  3. 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 your favourite photo and then move on. This provides creative clarity.
  4. Use insider knowledge. 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.
  5. 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 e.g Black and White. Or choose a theme, like a colour or a technique – red or low/high point of view.

The Photos

The Five Topics in order were – Your Entry Number, Busy, Look, A Change is gonna come, and Beauty in the Mundane.

Here are our photos, you can choose the winner! If this idea inspires a curiosity about photomarathons take a look at my post 10 Tips to Survive a Photomarathon

Your Entry Number

Busy

Look

A Change is gonna come

Beauty in the mundane

Cardiff Mindful Photography Workshop

Book your place

I am delivering a full day Mindful Photography workshop on 15th October at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. We will start at 10.00am and finish at 4.00pm and the cost (including booking fee) is £54. Want to know what it’s all about? Read on.

What is Mindful Photography?

Mindful Photography is an approach to photography and life that applies mindfulness to photography and through photography practices develops your ability to be mindful. Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat Zinn as “paying attention on purpose, to the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding experience moment to moment.”

At the workshop you will be introduced to practices and activities that use the visual experience to root you in the present moment, practices that encourage you to pay attention to what you are seeing and doing and in that moment create a personally resonant photograph.

Why get mindful?

You lead a very busy, active life. You constantly move from one activity to another and sometimes those activities overlap. Your mind is constantly busy, doing one thing and often thinking about others. Mindfulness encourages you to pay attention to the one thing that you are doing. It sounds easy, but because of your busy habits it is very difficult.

During your busy days you may experience feelings of frustration, anger, inadequacy or relentless drive as you try to cram in and achieve ‘stuff’ in your day. You are impelled by a desire to complete, succeed and achieve. Mindfulness encourages you to pay attention to these feelings. To notice what you are experiencing. Then you are able to make a choice. To react or respond.

React or respond?

You are hardwired to react to stressful events. This capacity for action and re-action developed to allow quick reactions when danger threatened. The oldest part of the brain, the limbic system, fires up at the first sign of danger or challenge. You know this as the ‘flight or fight response’. The brain readies the body for action, heart rate is raised as more oxygen is delivered to your muscles, you breathe quicker and your body is flooded with cortisol. You are ready to fight or run. You are ready for action.

This system still fires in our modern world when you are stressed. Being late for work, an argument with a loved one, your day going awry or simply being driven to complete a task so that it is perfect. These and many other similar events fire up the limbic system and you react in old familiar ways. You have, over many years, evolved ways of behaving when you are stressed. You will be familiar with your pattern of behaviour!

Mindfulness encourages us to be present so that you notice what you are experiencing. The first indicator that you are stressed might be noticing something physical (pounding heart, faster breathing) or it might be noticing feelings of anger or frustration – just before you erupt in action. In that moment you breathe. You pay attention to your body, notice the physical sensations; breathe.

Then you a have a choice. You may recognise the feeling, this experience. It is an old familiar acquaintance. You know how you normally react. Your choice now, fully in the experience and aware, is to respond. To respond with full engagement, knowing what is happening and knowing the consequences of your actions. How you respond is your choice. But it is a more skillful response than our habitual reaction and in that moment you burn a new pathway in your mind.

Motorways and off road routes

Your habitual response is like a motorway. It is the route you normally take, it is well prepared and you use it without thought. Engaging in a skillful response is like getting off road, with your machete, and carving a path through new ground. It is not easy. But each time you make that skillful choice the path gets a little more used. The way becomes a little clearer. Imperceptibly you develop a new way of responding. A new habit.

Why photography?

Photography is a familiar and creative activity. Attending to the visual experience as your mindful anchor, the thing that you return to when you notice you have started thinking about other stuff, attunes you to the moment. Applying mindfulness to photography expands your perspective. As you use the visual experience as the one thing that keeps you present, you see more. As you pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that play through your mind you have the opportunity to create a photograph that responds to that experience. Mindful Photography leads to greater personal engagement in the process of creating a photograph.

Why not come along on the 15th? Expand your perspective. Learn about an engaging and stimulating approach to photography. Learn more about mindfulness. Learn more about yourself and create intimately resonant photographs.

Book your place

Mindful Photography Workshop – Your Landscape

Somehow I have managed to avoid bad weather at my photography workshops. The very first one I delivered was visited by a violent hail storm, but since then the sun has always shone. In fact, the last time I visited Llanmadoc to deliver a photography workshop, 2 years ago almost to the day, it was scorchio! That luck ran out on Saturday and challenged the students to create photos that illustrated their inner landscape in dull, dreary, damp weather.

I shared some techniques and ideas for envisioning how we feel through photography that included the elements of visual design and a more personal immersive experience. Despite the challenging conditions everyone embraced the challenge and produced some personally resonant photos. The story behind each photo is not shared here but maybe you get a sense of the photographer’s thoughts and feelings from their photos.

Beginner’s Mind Practice

The first Mindful Photography practice was called ‘Beginner’s Mind’ and encouraged us to look at our environment as if it was the first time we had seen it. In a limited space we had to create up to 10 photos, and the students could not see their view screens, so there was no checking to see how the photos had come out. This kind of limitation slows us down and attunes us to our present moment. One photo was shared from each student.

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Equivalents

The next Mindful Photography practice encouraged us to represent our emotional experience through a photograph. The conditions were particularly challenging as the light faded and the heavens opened. We protected our cameras and ourselves as well as we could and ventured down onto the beach. What feelings do these photos generate for you?

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Finally…

A few of my photos from the session. Let’s hope the weather is kinder at my next workshop in Cardiff next month!

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Develop mindfulness through photography

My thoughts of late have been much around how I can share more effectively what I have developed. It has taken me 55 years of living, a couple of years of development, an online course, live workshops and some significant life events to really bring my thinking on delivering mindfulness through photography – or Mindful Photography as I usually call it – into a coherent whole.

I now believe that I have reached a key point. I have several live workshop sessions I can now deliver anywhere, and I have three planned for September and October in Swansea, Porthcawl and Cardiff. I have an 8 week Mindful Photography Course planned and have started to approach private, public and third sector organisations with a view to delivering this course for their staff, volunteers or participants. This week and next I am re-visiting the work I have created to date on my Mindful Photography book and once I have completed a second draft I am hoping to re-develop an online course.

It remains a challenge to develop and deliver all of this whilst still working part time, but regular income is of course essential. Keeping all of this on track, whilst also working through personal challenges and falling in love provides rich territory for practice. I try to sit quietly once a day and also share my gratitudes for the day with my sister (in Canada). These are practices that keep me present with all that is passing through.

Lately, I have been reading a passage from a book just after I have sat. The book is called Perseverance by Margaret J Wheatley and she shares little vignettes and quotes a page at a time that build towards a way of living with challenge. This morning’s offering included this quote below which summarises clearly how I believe our life is, and it is also enlivening to see yourself as a warrior. In fact, I imagine that I am a spiritual warrior and that my offering of Mindful Photography is my way of sharing that potential with the rest of the world.

“The basic difference between and ordinary person and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, whilst an ordinary person takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”

Don Juan, Carlos Casteneda

 

 

Mindful Photography Course for your staff

Mindfulness is now recognised as practice that is supportive to all aspects of our lives and something that can enable us to respond positively to stress, rather than react habitually. It is for this reason that many corporations, public sector organisations and businesses encourage staff to follow mindfulness sessions at work. With this is mind I have developed a Mindful Photography course for employed staff.

What is Mindful Photography?

Mindful Photography is the development of mindfulness through photography. The sessions can make use of mobile phone cameras or staff can bring in their own cameras. Either way the experiences and activities will encourage an attention to the moment whilst also exploring skills that are relevant to work. These skills include: team work, self-confidence, responding positively to stress, communication, creative thinking and negotiation.

Mindfulness encourages us to pay attention to the moment. It is centred upon the idea that there are Four Foundations of Mindfulness that we can be aware of. These are

  1. Our sensations: what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell
  2. Our thoughts
  3. Our feelings
  4. The one thing that we are engaged with

If we can be aware of these foundations, pay attention to our experience, then we can be wholly immersed in the moment and our lives.

I use mindfulness practices developed from the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) to develop and share photography activities. These practices all relate back to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and each is designed to encourage an attention to our daily experience.

In a work environment this paying attention leads to many benefits for the individual, which also spill over into the rest of their lives. The benefits to the individual staff member then accrue for the organisation, as staff become more centred, less stressed and more supportive of one another. Using photography as the vehicle for mindfulness allows something familiar to be used as our way in to the practice and we also learn how to create more interesting personal photographs.

Mindful Photography Course

The course is best delivered over 8 weeks of 3 hour sessions, though the total hours (24) can be split up in other ways to suit the needs of the business. An outline of the sessions follows and I would be delighted to meet and discuss how it could meet your businesses needs and to expand upon my philosophy and the course detail. Each week includes Photography activities and practices that develop a mindful attitude and specific personal skills relevant to a harmonious and effective work environment.

Week 1: Introduction to Mindfulness and Mindful Photography – Why Mindfulness? How can mindfulness support your life? Introductory Practices. Using photography to develop mindfulness. Photography practices and activities, including ‘Shooting from the Hip’

Week 2: Mindful Seeing – Using what we see as our anchor for mindfulness practice. Using the 4 Stage Seeing Practice. How we see vs how a camera sees. Photography practices and activities, including ‘Giving the mundane its beautiful due’

Week 3: Mindful Thinking – An exploration of how we can remain present with the one thing that we are doing when our mind is shooting about reliving the past and imagining our future. The application of this to photographic thinking. Photography practices and activities, including the ‘Camera Scan practice’

Week 4 Mindful Photomarathon  A pair challenge designed to practice and apply the mindful photography skills learnt to date and develop teamwork, negotiation, creative thinking and responding to stress rather than reacting. Photography practices and activities, including ‘Photo Scan practice’

Week 5 Mindful Reflection  A review of the Photomarathon experience. Mindful practices that support us in work. Photography practices and activities, including ‘A 50 foot space’

Week 6 Mindful Feeling – An exploration of our emotional world and how photography can be used to illustrate and understand this experience. Recognising our stress indicators. Developing positive responses to stress. Understanding our habitual reactions. Photography practices and activities, including ‘Equivalents’

Week 7 Mindful Emotions – Developing an understanding of our emotional world and how we can represent this through our photos: photography techniques vs an emotional response. Photography practices and activities, including ‘Right now’ and ‘It’s been emotional!’

Week 8 Mindful Being vs Doing – Understanding our personal fears. Mindfulness practices that can support our acceptance of those fears. Exploring fear through photography. Review of the course and a celebration of our favourite photos. Photography practices and activities, including ‘I love Selfies’

 

One popular adaptation is to take Week 4 Mindful Photomarathon out of the weekly schedule and turn it into a full day. This becomes then an even more immersive, team building exercise and can be used to explore the local town/city or a chosen environment.

The course will also produce many personal photographs from those taking part. All of the favourite photographs will be collated and shared with the business, providing an opportunity to use some of the photos to illustrate the skills and experiences of your staff.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this course or other similar ideas you have please contact me.

Bangor Workshop