Sculpture - Frederick Franck  Quote - Hui-neng

Sculpture - Frederick Franck, Quote - Hui-neng

There has been an ongoing battle in my head/soul about photography.  Without a doubt, I’ve experienced times where taking snapshots or trying to get the right settings for a shot completely seperate me from truly experiencing what was in front of me.  The camera CAN be a barrier, putting you outside the action instead of being part of it.  It can interrupt the act of being in the present – because you are usually focused on the future, the photo you hope to have a result or souvenir of your trip.

There are times I’ve seen some photographers as hungry energy sucking vortexes, anxious for a scene with topless women to provide someone with material to jerk off to.  They don’t see the people in front of them as people, but a meal ticket or a titillating image.

I’ve also witnessed photographers who create amazing art, manipulating light and shadow to evoke visceral memories and touching thousands of people.

As well, I’ve noticed how once you spend more time behind a camera, your eye sees things in the everyday that otherwise pass unnoticed.  The brickwork, murals, and chipping paint as I drive through Philly on I-95 make me want to stop the car often, though it would be a hazard to do so.

Philly from the passenger seat

Philly from the passenger seat

I’ve blogged about this once already, and while I’m not much closer to a definitive answer, I am feeling instincts/intuition and synchronicty pushing me in the direction I’m supposed to go.

This past weekend was absolutely one of the best I’ve ever experienced.  The visual beauty and creativity was only outdone by the auditory talents of the DJs and performers.  I brought two cameras.  I didn’t touch either a single time I was there.  In the moment – I didn’t regret it one bit.  A workshop on presence helped set the tone for the rest of the weekend, and I was there to experience and immerse myself fully, without analysis or thought.

Now I’m home, and I miss that there are not many snapshots of myself and my friends, that I didn’t push my creative boundaries with the numerous opportunities of unique subjects.

And I’m really questioning myself on whether photography HAS to distance you from the experience, or is there another way?

I spent some time googling things like “mindful photography” “meditation photography” “zen photography” and found many resources out there.  While I’m reading, it hits me like a ton of bricks.

The concept of presence and flow were the overwhelming themes to this past weekend.  My love got a taste of the addictive flow of skill toys that goes beyond the initial thrill of learning a new skill or even adding fire to it.  One night, I witnessed him dance like I’ve never seen before – we both don’t know where it came from but it was amazing to experience.  I hooped with closed eyes to the Gamelatron, and I felt the flow when I borrowed a friend’s glow poi (as mine were too far away) and couldn’t stop dancing/spinning.

The flow we’ve experienced comes some time after learning the basics of the “how to”.  At some point, our monkey brain manages to turn off and we stop thinking “Oh I’ll do this move next”.  It’s about being purely in the moment and not a millisecond in the future on where we go next.

The reason I’m struggling with photography is that I’m still learning the skills.  I’m still hitting myself in the head with the poi, I’m still dropping the hoop.  Flow is possible, and it will happen, but it most certainly cannot be forced.

Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

It has nothing to do with the subject, or whether other photographers are shooting the same scene.  It’s an internal process – which is great, as that’s the only thing you can choose to control!

by John Suler (Click to view on flickr and read a great essay)

by John Suler (Click for a great photo/essay series on flickr)

From now on, I am giving myself permission to decide to not take photos because of the sheer number of other photographers.  But I’m also not going to let that stop me if it’s something I really want to shoot.  I will still take snapshots – of course, they are fun and great memories of times with friends.  (To me, snapshots are separate but related – lighthearted and more about capturing memories than creating art.  Doesn’t make them any less meaningful, they just serve a different purpose.)  But I am also going to work on taking more shots with the goal of improving my skills so I can get to that flow zone more often, and try taking time to make photography a meditation.

It makes so much sense.  This may not be a dramatic change in where I am now with photography, but it definitely helps define where I am going, and reminds me to listen to my intuition.

The goal is not necessarily to produce art that moves others, but primarily to move myself during the process. Is this a complicated way to state I’m finding my “voice”?  It could be – but this simplifies things for me.

The flow is possible in anything we do, really – especially you combine the traditional definition (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first coined the term) with the spiritual concepts of presence, zen, whatever buzzword you want to give it.  I know you’ve felt it at some point.  To cultivate it, we can’t go chasing it around but we have to turn inwards and quiet ourselves.  To surrender to the magic within and around us.

Mind is the camera
memory the film
Previsualise, store memory.
In order to see you must first learn how
to look.

Ttebroc Yrrag (1954)

Related Articles:

On Photography as Mindful Seeing

Introduction To Photographic Psychology

Snapshot Photography vs. Mindful Photography

The Zen of Photography

Zen and the Art of Photography

Writing and flow

In the Zone

Related Blogs:

Meditation Photography

Zen and Photography – Blog

Related Books:

A Presence Behind the Lens: Photography And Reflections by Nicholas C. Hlobeczy

Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing by Philippe L. Gross, S.I. Shapiro

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi