Tag Archives: contemplation

Looking and seeing

A meditative approach to photography helps us to make the shift from looking to seeing.  It helps us to cultivate the habit of seeing more clearly, becoming more awake to each moment. I love this quote by Frederick Franck, which seems to sum this up perfectly:

“We do a lot of looking: we look through lenses, telescopes, television tubes…Our looking is perfected every day, but we see less and less.”

The same can be said of photography, if we allow it to happen.  We can ‘do’ photography, dashing round snapping this and that without much thought or presence, or we can ‘be’ photography, and let the images come to us.

So what do we mean by ‘seeing’? Freeman Patterson has the answer this time:

“Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions.  It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being.  It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”

Sometimes it can be hard to really see.  Perhaps we are busy with other things, other thoughts.  This preoccupation means that life rushes by in a blur and we cannot see beyond the essential.  Maybe there is just too much to take in, to make visual sense of it, so we block much of it out.  Perhaps it’s all just so amazing we become immune to its charms and no longer notice it.

Strong reactions, whether like or dislike, can prevent us from seeing clearly, as the emotional response clouds our ability to respond objectively.  Sometimes it is the mundane things that allow us to explore their potential more fully.

To me, the biggest barrier to seeing clearly can be the deep set habit to label things and immediately assign them a value, good bad or indifferent.  We relegate them to the appropriate pile without even bothering to give a second glance.  Monet spoke wisely when he said “In order to see, we must forget the name of the thing we’re looking at.”

Why not take time to look more closely at something mundane this week?  It might surprise you.

Yoga and mindfulness at Woodbrooke

One of the highlights of my summer is teaching at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre.  This year the course is slightly earlier, running Wednesday, 15 August 2018 – Friday, 17 August 2018.  Our title this time is “Sense and Perception: Bringing Together Yoga, Mindfulness & Photography.”

The yoga sessions will be gentle and suitable for beginners, with an emphasis on mindful practice rather than physical ability. Mats and blankets will be provided, but you will need to bring a digital camera you are comfortable using – your phone camera will be perfect.

The course costs £170.00 non-residential or £245.00 residential and places can be booked online with Woodbrooke by following this link.

I hope to see you in August!

Sudden attraction

I went this week to Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, for a meeting to plan the workshop I will be co-delivering this August.  We had a very productive day, and as usual a lovely lunch in Woodbrooke’s canteen.  I always find myself drawn to bowls of fruit, not necessarily to eat, but because of the beauty of their contents.  There were several bowls there yesterday and one contained the prettiest blush pears.  I had to have one!

I love the subtle shades of warm yellow, slightly lime green and that pinky-red flush that is neither pink nor red, yet both at once.  The shape is also extremely pleasing, and somehow nature has deemed to make them the perfect shape and size to sit snugly in my hand.

We have a great couple of days planned for the course, only a few weeks away now.  We will be immersing ourselves in personal reflection and mindfulness, in the fantastic setting of Woodbrooke’s house and gardens.  There are still places available so if you would like to join us why not give Woodbrooke a ring or check out the details on their website?

Feeling photography

The world of image creation is full of rules and magazines spill over with lists of 10 great tips for this and that.  With all this conventional wisdom forming a substantial part of our daily diet, is it surprising that our images can sometimes feel a bit same-y?  A bit old hat?  Done it, seen it, printed that one on a t-shirt.

Operating inside the confines of an accepted composition can impose boundaries that generate this sense of déjà vu, no matter how atypical the subject matter.  It can restrict the freedom of the image, limiting its ability to represent the living, breathing and open-minded photographer behind the camera who sees and feels the world in his or her own personal idiosyncratic manner.

I find it can take me a good while with my subject to get beyond that which feels ordinary and find free and fluid images.  Some days it just doesn’t happen at all.  Exploring from all angles, I wait for that inner reaction to the scene in my viewfinder that says ‘Oh yes! That’s it!’  If my response is ‘Meh!’ then I don’t press the shutter.  I am trying to hold out until I feel the emotional response that I would like my viewer to feel when they look at the picture.  Sometimes I run out of time.  That’s life I guess.

Shhhhh!

“If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet…maybe we could understand something.”   Federico Fellini

I love silence.  That’s why I like Christmas so much.  Living in the second largest city in the UK, it’s hard to find a little peace and quiet, even at night.  Christmas is one of the few times of the year when  most people stay indoors, the emergency sirens stop and the traffic dies down.  Bliss!  I cherish this time of year for the silence that eludes me the rest of the time.

I know that might be a little odd.  Many people seem to enjoy the constant hubbub of the world and people around them.  They shirk away from spending quiet time alone.   But quiet time allows me to recharge my batteries, to think and to just ‘be’.  It is within this peace that I find  the energy to get things done and my creativity bubbles up to inspire me.

In silence I find the mental space for the ideas to arise, uncluttered by the day to day chatter of life.  I find the desire to reflect, to contemplate, to wonder.   Hoping I can hang on to those feelings, as life kicks up a gear again and 2015 gets well and truly underway.

As you move into the New Year, I hope you too found time to recharge over the holidays, in whatever way suits you best.  Remember those feelings and enjoy.

Mindful Photography Meditation

Last weekend I spent a day teaching a workshop at Selly Manor, in Bournville, Birmingham.  Our topic was ‘Creative Mindfulness: Meditation and Photography.  I planned the day to offer a balance between formal seated meditation practices and opportunities to practice photography as a contemplative experience in the beautiful house and gardens of the venue.

We started close to home, meditating on the body and on the breath.  The body is the means by which we experience each day that life gives us, but how much attention do we pay to it?  We explored the subtle changes in the body as it breathes and we considered our sense of vision in more detail via mediating on an object.  Later in the day we contemplated the actual process of receiving an image into the camera.  We considered how the camera is open to receiving any image and the process is completed without judging or labelling the scene as it is recorded.

A large part of the afternoon was spent on individual practice, seeking to create images that would remind us of the qualities we hoped to enhance through bringing meditation into our lives.  Participants explored ways to represent love and harmony in their images.  The weather brought challenges with a mixture of sunshine and showers, but somehow this made the gardens even prettier as the raindrops glistened in the sunshine that followed.

If the opportunity to take time out of your busy schedule in this way appeals to you, I am offering this workshop again at the Midlands Arts Centre in Edgbaston on 9th August.  Alternatively, if you would really like to treat yourself, I will be teaching a longer workshop at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in late August.  Details of both these workshops are here.

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary

Ordinary things, when really seen, make extraordinary photos.  David Vestal

In practising mindfulness, we are aiming to rest in awareness and observe the thoughts as they flow by.  We seek to witness our experience without becoming drawn in, as an impartial observer of the drama unfolding in front of us.  They say the camera never lies, although that may be loudly challenged by those who have seen what Photoshop can achieve!  What we can say, though, is that the original image, as recorded by the sensor, really is a representation of reality in that moment.   The image represents our discernment, or perception of things as they really are.  It can be interesting to look back over photographs you have taken and see the extent to which they show what you remember was there.

Our memories of the past are coloured by our judgments; we make comparisons and selectively remember to most important aspects, the ones that made the biggest impression on us.  The bigger the impression the less we are likely to have noticed the crisp packet in the corner of the frame or that our thumb obscured the view.

We automatically apply these judgements in the present as well.  Everything that our senses bring to the brain tends to be categorised and labelled, assigned a value by the mind.  We might apply these value judgments based on society’s values or our own ethical standards when we label things as good or bad.  This tends to happen subconsciously, and very quickly, without us necessarily being aware of it.  Our responses are habitual rather than considered and can be rather like seeing in black and white without the shades of grey in between.

When observing a scene we are attracted to some aspects and not others – there is a subtle ongoing value judgment of what is interesting or not interesting as we scan our surroundings for something that tempts us to press the shutter button.  We tend to pay attention to what we consider good or bad and tune out the neutral as unimportant, boring – these labels are judgements in themselves.  Though perhaps in the greyness of boring between the extremes of black and white lies a middle ground that our mind has not bothered to let us see.  Open your mind to seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary and life’s shades of grey become much more colourful.

Photography and mindfulness

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” – Dorothea Lange

Mindfulness is essentially giving our whole attention to a particular subject or activity.  It does not involve trying to get anywhere or achieving anything specific, more it is about allowing yourself to be wherever you already are.  Yes, you might do this sitting on your mat in meditation on your breath, but there are many more hours in the day that you can spend mindfully by bringing this awareness to everyday activities.  In this wider sense, you are inviting yourself to look very carefully at your surroundings and the objects there, to see what might normally be overlooked and to observe at a deeper, more fundamental level.  We can be mindful in any of our waking moments, transforming them into a time for ‘being’ rather than merely ‘doing’.

In a yoga class we often practise mindfulness by watching our breath or exploring the sensations of the body as it moves.  Just as with sensations that come and go, whatever you see in any one moment may not there seconds later.  Perhaps someone has walked by, a breeze has moved the flowers or the light has changed.  Each moment is unique, subtly different in some way.  Watching these moments with a camera in hand helps me to pay attention, letting me see things I might not have noticed if I had not been out with photography in mind.

Yes, you could just go out and snap a few pictures of whatever catches your eye, but there is another way.  Spend time looking carefully and be with your subject.  Consider what has attracted your attention, the flash of perception that made you stop and look more carefully.  Observe the play of light and shadows, consider its history and future, its place in the world.  Be with your subject in the making of the image and transform the physical activity into a meditation that connects you to the wider world.

Times they are a changin’

Over the summer I teach fewer classes and my mind turns to tasks that don’t usually get a look in at more hectic times of year.  Over the last couple of weeks of ruthlessly deleting unwanted image files from my hard drive I have found it interesting to reflect on the ways in which my photography has changed over the last couple of years.  One aspect that really stands out is that I no longer take as many images.  On a photowalk, I spend much more time considering my subject before I press the shutter.  What was it that attracted me, caused me to pause and look more closely?  On a more careful look, is this attraction something I want to record?  Perhaps when I frame the image in the viewfinder I am unable to represent the aspect of it that stopped me – so I will move on.  I hope I am more mindful as I create my pictures.  Working indoors or in the garden, I also take fewer shots.  Perhaps this is due to my increasing confidence in my ability to recreate the scene in front of me.  It is also, I think, a result of an increasing rejection of the worship of image sharpness above all else.  I am most definitely not a ‘pixel peeper’ and the message conveyed by the image is more important to me than razor sharpness.  To this end I find myself working more and more with my Lensbaby Composer, to create images that are more about nuance and tones than cutting edge pixel by pixel definition.   Perhaps for the same reasons, I am finding that colour is increasingly becoming a distraction and I am very much in a monochrome phase.   This is what I see, what startles me out of the everyday, the aspects of the world that speak to me.

My urge to refresh has extended to this website in the last week or so and I have changed the look to a simpler, quieter theme.  Armed with the spoils of my hard drive excavations I have completely updated the galleries.  I have found that the old galleries no longer reflected my interests and so now, after a great deal of deliberation, we have new groupings and a whole new set of images. I hope you like it.