On Mindfulness, Photography, and a 30 Seconds to Mars Video

“I began to feel that my practice of photography was more than just to create beautiful pictures – it was a way to connect more deeply with the world.”

–Philippe L. Gross, The Tao of Photography, pg. 4

*

Now that I’ve basically given myself permission to follow my instincts without worrying so much about where they’re taking me, it’s like I’ve crossed a threshold and started wandering in a very interesting new world. I’m wandering along, admiring, learning. (It’s fun!)

Interestingly, it’s turning out to be not just about exploring new things (getting out of my comfort zone and so on). That’s a lot in and of itself – but there’s actually more: It’s like, liberating myself in one way has opened up numerous other doors at the same time. I’m getting all of these personal insights and learning things about myself. I didn’t anticipate that.

I guess it makes sense that it would be like that though. If you’re muzzling one part of yourself, is it likely that the rest of you will be free-flowing? I don’t think it works like that.

*

One thing that’s becoming very clear to me: everything I’m doing now is connected, very directly, with ideas I’ve had brewing inside for at least a year. And I didn’t at all grasp that before. I was actually worried that turning down this path was an example of me being unfocused – emerging as it had (I thought) out of nowhere. But this is definitely not the case! And NOW I’m surprised I could have thought otherwise.

I think sometimes you know something inside of yourself before you know it in your head. Your head is so full of distractions – insecurities, practicalities, other people’s needs and judgments. But there’s a level, inside, where I think you pretty much always know what’s right for you. The challenge is to not let it get buried under the weight of “I should…” or “I ought to…” or “they expect me to…” or “it makes more sense to…” And that can be tricky (for me, at least.)

*

I’m realizing more and more how much photography is bound up for me in LIVING LIFE. The kinds of photographs that move me the most, the kind of work I aspire to produce someday, is the kind that compels you to really SEE what’s around you. To immerse in it, to feel it, to feel a part of it, connected to it. And that’s a level of awareness I aspire to as a person, not just creatively.

It’s like what I was trying to get at when I wrote recently about a music video that visually really affected me. I’m still half-laughing at myself for being so affected by that. I mean, it’s just animals in the wild! It’s not earth-shatteringly interesting – but yet, it IS. It’s about how you look at something – how much time you take to really see and feel. It’s about IF you take time at all, or if you just let your eyes glide over something.

That video made me really LOOK at the animals – at the sinewy muscles of the cheetah, at the texture of the zebra’s fur. I could almost FEEL their power, their intelligence.

I want to live my life in an immersive way. I want to ground into the moments and live them fully. And I don’t want to miss details…the beauty all around me.

Existing at the superficial surface of things is such a waste of time.

*

I’m finding photography to be an extremely powerful tool for digging deeper in this manner – for cultivating the level of awareness I aspire to cultivate. There’s just something about having a camera in my hand that channels my thoughts. I see more, I feel more. And I see and feel more productively. I find that I’m less reactive when I’m in picture-taking-mode. I’m more aware – of myself and how I’m feeling, as well as of what’s around me. This is all tremendously helpful to me, personally.

*

A book I read recently, The Tao of Photography, speaks very directly to this idea – of photography as a tool for mindful living.

Here are a few quotations pulled from that:

“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.”

–Marc Riboud (quoted in The Tao of Photography, pg. 54)

and

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

–Elliott Erwitt (quoted in The Tao of Photography, pg. 70)

and most especially:

“One may not even have to be actively involved in taking pictures to train the habit of awareness. Simply the act of carrying a camera around throughout the day…can be used as a mnemonic to keep one’s awareness open, to see life unfolding moment by moment.”

–Philippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro, The Tao of Photography, pg. 123

When I came upon that last passage, I stopped flipping through the book and read it start to finish. (And it was worth reading, if you get an opportunity!)

*

One of the things I’m exploring right now is what it is exactly that moves me about the images that do. I’m trying to understand myself better as a photographer, but also as a consumer of images.

It’s been interesting – just stepping back and observing, kind of dispassionately, what it is exactly that moves me. I’m surprising myself a little bit – kind of like with that Thirty Seconds to Mars video. I can’t always predict what it is that will affect me…and there isn’t necessarily a rational explanation for what I feel.

I’m finding for example that I might have a respect for the technical proficiency of a certain photograph – but that doesn’t mean it makes me feel anything at all, or penetrates at all beyond the intellectual. An appreciation of aesthetics doesn’t have anything at all to do with emotional connection (which is something I think I knew and valued more before I actually studied art history…which in itself is an interesting realization.)

Landscapes, for example, don’t tend to touch me as much as, say, street photography does. But that’s not to say that no landscapes affect me, or that I need there to be people in a scene to feel an emotional connection to it. I’ve linked to this photographer before. His work is incredibly moving to me – even though it’s about as far away from the grittier intimacy of street photography as you can get.

And then there’s portrait photography – which can be very interesting to me…or not at all. And I can’t put my finger yet on what makes the difference for me. I can grasp the fact that I don’t care much for high-fashion photography, generally-speaking; it’s too staged for my taste. But yet some surreal photography moves me deeply – and that’s hardly un-staged. So where are the lines drawn? (of my taste)

I think it has something to do with how much a photograph penetrates the layers – of a person, of a place, of emotional experience, of LIFE. But the specifics are still a puzzle.

*

I imagine I’ll need a better understanding of all of this at some point. I don’t know that you can produce meaningful art without a sounder understanding of what you personally find meaningful, and why you do. But I’m not worrying about that at the moment. Right now I’m letting myself just be moved by what I feel, rather than dictated to by what I think. I have a sense that I might actually learn more if I keep definitions and categories and that kind of thinking out of the picture right now – or at least confine that kind of thinking to the technical aspects of photography that I’m teaching myself right now.

The Tao of Photography again:

“In searching for a path to liberation, we may be inclined to expect a neat method or formula for achieving this goal. But all goals share a common shortcoming: they are rooted in the discriminatory mind, which has a natural tendency to focus on a goal and slavishly strive for it, rejecting anything that appears to impede progress. Singlemindedness may meet with some success in accumulating money or power, but its narrowing, sclerotic character is antithetical to achieving liberation. Because the discriminatory mind constricts awareness, it imprisons the seeker – even the spiritual seeker – in the trap of Little Understanding. Psychologically, one becomes a victim of the “paradox of intention”” that is, one’s intentional efforts to achieve a goal may be the very obstacle preventing one from reaching that goal.”

–Philippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro, The Tao of Photography, pg. 108

*

So (as is probably clear) I don’t know where I’m going with photography. But I’m having fun! And I’m learning a lot – about the art form and about myself. So it feels like I’m doing something worthwhile.

I actually feel like my creative muscles are flexing in a way they haven’t since I was a kid (and unfettered by practicalities and confidence issues.)

A part of me wishes I could peek into the future five years or so and see what (if anything) this drive to experience photography has turned into.

But there’s another part that’s glad I can’t. I think there’s a lot to be said for enjoying the ride! (And I really am right now.)

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13 thoughts on “On Mindfulness, Photography, and a 30 Seconds to Mars Video

  1. I’m kinda envious that you’ve found your calling… I keep wondering what it is I’m supposed to be “doing” with my life… while all the time being aware that my soul’s purpose varies with each cycle in my life. I still think I’m here to affect change in others rather than myself… or rather, to affect change in others while being indirectly affected myself.

    (Stream of consciousness again, I’m afraid)

    I turned 40 nearly three years ago. It’s just another year 🙂 And honestly, it’s true what they say… you’re as young as you feel. I feel young. 🙂

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    1. Sorry to take so long to reply to this!! But what you said about your purpose shifting reminded me of an article I’d recently read & I wanted to pass you that…and it took me awhile to remember where I’d saved the link!

      Here’s that:

      http://99u.com/workbook/23961/the-lily-pad-mindset-or-the-dangers-of-having-goals

      I don’t know that I think having goals is a bad idea really (goal-setting can help you focus, I think). But I really do find that whole lily pad mentality very appealing. (And maybe it’s a little bit in line with how you’re navigating as well??)

      I guess I just really like the idea of following YOURSELF – which requires a certain openness to altering your path.

      I feel young too. I wonder how much that has to do with staying open to change?

      Anyway, thanks for the the thoughts!

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      1. Thanks for the link, Maggie – I’ll be sure to check that out 🙂

        And yes, it’s good to have focus and goals… and I think that’s what I’ve been missing for the past few years. But look at what we’ve both had to go through – a divorce, relocation and, for me, the separation from James. Plus, of course, all the extra stress of everyday life – work, bills, food, all that fun stuff.

        Is it any wonder that, as my Nan would have said it, I’ve been wandering around “like a fart in a thunderstorm”? LOL

        It’s time I got my life back on track… and I’ll get there… but I know, realistically, I’m looking at it taking a couple of years to get to where I want and need to be 🙂 But I’m excited to be continuing my journey 🙂

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  2. I’m catching up on blogs….gradually. Yours always makes me think and I’m especially drawn to discussions of thinking vs. feeling — it’s the psychology major in me, I suppose. I found the following particularly interesting:

    — I’m finding for example that I might have a respect for the technical proficiency of a certain photograph – but that doesn’t mean it makes me feel anything at all, or penetrates at all beyond the intellectual. An appreciation of aesthetics doesn’t have anything at all to do with emotional connection (which is something I think I knew and valued more before I actually studied art history…which in itself is an interesting realization.) —

    I have had similar conversations with some of my more academically-inclined friends recently, particularly those who work as academics but are feeling like “something is missing” in their lives — they’re not feeling moved by their work — not feeling it. For what it’s worth, I live in an area that’s highly populated by academics and artists. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue because from my vantage point, it seems obvious that perhaps they have been working at the cerebral level so intently that they’ve become out of touch with the feeling part of themselves. And it would do them a lot of good to shut off their brains and just be. I had a conversation today with a friend who is a musician and in his day job he’s a music technology professor.

    This is one of the many reasons I love reading your posts. You’re doing what I think a couple of my real-life friends need to do AND because you are such a proficient writer, you’re able to able to explain the process.

    I used to beat myself up for being so in the moment, but I’m learning that being able to do this is a gift. I think you have a good balance of both (thinking/feeling). Writing really stretches my left-brain, analytical side. I notice that editing, copywriting, and academic writing can be quite taxing, especially if I’m working with technical subjects in which I have limited interest. Here I go streaming again… This is what I love about The Artist’s Way. When I find myself getting too cerebral, that system provides specific tools to bring me back to my creative side, though truthfully, I have a harder time breaking out of right-brain, creative mode and functioning in a world that to a large degree requires planning, thinking, and executing.

    Okay, lots going on as I’ve been responding. More later. Great post.

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    1. I totally agree about The Artist’s Way. I’m so happy I read that book! I didn’t even pick it up at the time because I felt particularly blocked. I just happened to see it at the library last summer and was curious. I worked in bookstores for years, and that was one of those books I saw coming through all the time – but somehow never got around to reading myself. So I did last summer…and what a difference it’s made to my perceptions of things!

      I think, in hindsight, I wouldn’t have unearthed this interest in photography if I hadn’t read that book. I really think that was the beginning. It really got me digging into the roots of my own creativity.

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