Category: photos


Photography and Flow

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

Dress up

Remember how much fun it was to go through a box of fun clothes when you were little?  Guess what – it still is! I challenge you to not laugh just looking at this… but maybe it’s just because we had so much laughter during the photo shoot that it’s still putting a smile on our faces.

Deviant Collage

Love is in the air

“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep
because reality is finally better than your dreams.” (Dr. Seuss)

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Congrats Chris and Mandy – I love the way you love.

And congrats to my love for kicking ass as the officiant! 😀

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When Kids Attack


The spin jam yesterday was small but by no means uneventful. An old car show and DJ were at the Green, playing 50’s music and even giving me a shout out when they played the song “Hula Hoop”, talking about the hooping going on! Apparently they’ll be there the first Thursday in July and August so come hoop to the oldies with me! 😀

While waiting for friends to show up, I was attacked by a mob of kids going after my hoops. I was outnumbered and overcome. For a while I frantically tried to make sure that they weren’t wandering toward the road (with hoops), throwing the hoops around, or hitting each other. Eventually I just stopped and laughed at the chaos of it all!!! And took photos on my phone.

Aside from two mothers – one who wants to buy a hoop (I hope she does) and one who approached midway through and asked me if it was ok for them to play – most of the adults with them did not express any interest or care for the safety of their kids, the safety of my hoops (I wasn’t worried, they can take a beating), or whether I minded having them all fight over the hoops. A huge thank you to those two mothers who DID take the time to talk to me and make sure it was ok! (When the first two kids approached me, I did offer the hoops to play with. I just never expected 20 more to show up!)

Eventually the flash mob moved on, and I was left to hoop and spin poi and convince passers by to try it as well… The music was much different than what I usually hoop to, but I knew many of the songs and it was a pleasant time.

And now I need to go buy cheap kiddie hoops so that I can offer it as bait to the invasive species, and make sure the adults can play as well! I mean, we have so much less play time than they do, it’s only fair! 😀

Life

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I planted my balcony container garden by porchlight this year, after sunset. I didn’t have anything last year, too much time spent on the road to have plants die out when they aren’t watered.

My love bought me the herbs and flowers (and tomato plant) rather than buying cut flowers for our anniversary.  😀

Every time I plant out there, I remember the one spring. When in the middle of planting, I got the call from a dear friend, who lost the baby she was carrying. I stopped to talk to her for a long time, and finished planting the flowers with a deep sense of loss among the fertility of spring and new growth. I recall that day, and I think of her now, with her son who was born a few years later in late April.

Here it is almost a month late and I forgot I owe him a birthday present. But her and her family are always in my heart every spring, as I plant my flowers.

Reflections

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Reflection in the balcony doors

So this past week I’ve been putting off my writing and photo assignments for the e-course. Work got busier, and I just don’t tend to carve out time for myself at home for anything like this, especially during the week. I was however watching my reflection and shadow wherever I went, often wishing I could capture something that I knew was impossible, especially with the iphone camera.

Add to that, my patience and perfection issues are being tested.  I got my first partial rolls developed from my fisheye and colorsplash cameras.  Now, beyond the operating issues I have been having with them, I have some internal things as well to work on.  I visualized how certain photos would come out.  I couldn’t wait to see them.

Well, most of them didn’t come out too well.  The bundles of film that I got – which were a good deal – were 100 speed film.  It’s not like I never shot film before, and it’s not like I don’t set the ISO on my digital camera.  But many shots I expected to turn out, didn’t.  Even on fairly sunny days, you can barely see the image it’s so dark. The whole series of photos I started last Sunday that I looked forward to most were the most disappointing, as I saw how amazing they were through the fisheye viewfinder.

It’s a learning curve.  But you know what? I somehow expected my first attempts to be really good, only to get more amazing as I learned from them.

I know, it’s silly to be so hard on myself.  But I splurged a good deal of money on the two cameras, and a shit-ton of film (because bundled, 20 rolls cost the same as 5!)  I will eventually put the pictures on the computer – since of course I spent more to get a CD as well as print – but I’m still sitting with these feelings about the whole thing.

I did break out my good camera and get some photos for this week’s assignment, and even one with my feet and Random’s that I had been wanting to get since last week.  The immediate gratification of the digital – along with the instant KNOWLEDGE of what works and doesn’t work…. Sigh.  I know there’s a magic to the old style of film, I just hope I have the patience and dedication to work with it.  Luckily, ISO 100 should be just perfect for daytime shots at Burning Man, and I’m still planning on taking the cameras there.

Still have only 1 of the first 4 writing exercises done, but Susannah says we should go at our own pace.  I just don’t want that pace to be slacking so much that I never finish.  It’s not like we get grades or anything, but the purpose of the course is to get something out of it – and you only get out what you put in.

Well, I’m going to wrap this up – it’s been a productive weekend so far, planting flowers on my balcony, packing for Playa Del Fuego (next weekend! WHEE!!) and we’re figuring out plans for the rest of tonight and tomorrow.  Letting the unravelling continue and just trying to be aware of the process, and see what happens.

Have a great weekend!

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Poppet among the truffula tree plants and demon plants. Yeah it's a curious way to choose plants at a nursery, but they are fun!

Patience

I knew that getting my two film cameras would be a lesson in patience – there is no immediate gratification in the film world and I’m very used to my digital cameras.  But these guys are giving me quite the lesson.

Fisheye: I’m loving it. Only one small issue – the flash ready indicator light does not light. The tell-tale high pitch of the flash warming up happens, and the flash usually works.  I may exchange it for one that does work, but it’s not a deal breaker.  No film developed yet, but I started a really cool series of photos with it, and can’t wait to see how it comes out!

Colorsplash:  This guy has been a finicky sonofa….  At first, I didn’t properly load the film. (I read the directions. I’ve loaded film cameras before.)  Took a few shots, and then couldn’t advance any more.  Based on customer service advice*, I scrapped that roll and put a new one in. No problems so far.  However, now it doesn’t seem to flash – even though the flash is set to on, and the indicator light is lit. (Funny, how it’s the reverse of the Fisheye.)

I can’t decide whether to break up with him or replace him.  Maybe I just got a defective one, but I don’t know.  I’d lose a little money on the restocking fee (I used the roll that came in the package, and one of the extra rolls that was in the bundle with it), or I can hope that they get a replacement to me before PDF. Either way, I need to ship him back tomorrow.

* I ordered from lomography.com.  I didn’t really shop around because I thought these were harder to find elsewhere, and the bundles with film (and free shipping) was a great deal.  I now have seen it on amazon, for a little less.  However, given my issues so far with the cameras, I do not regret my decision at ALL to purchase from there. My emails to customer service have been replied to IMMEDIATELY, from the same person, with helpful advice and the alternatives I have for returns/exchanges.  So to anyone considering it, I recommend ordering from the source as you’ll have the most options if something goes wrong.  And while I do have issues with both cameras, these technically fall into the “toy” camera category – and are pretty inexpensive.  They will exchange malfunctioning pieces for up to a year, so while there may be a slightly higher chance of having a problem (I think I’m an exception however), they stand by their product and want to keep you happy.

Now I’m just going to be impatient until I can get the film developed and see how my first experiments turned out! 😀

Feet

work feet 2

Trapped in a grey cubicle.

If you wonder why my photos over the next 8 weeks take to a theme, it’s for the Unravelling e-course. I’ll share some photos and some writing here, but to keep the integrity of the course I will not be posting everything or our given exercises.

These shoes are great for inbetween weather, where your feet want to be barefoot or in flip flops (because we recently had 90 degree days in April) but it’s raining and cool out, and the office is kept as cold as a meat locker.

I rarely wear skirts to work, and wore this one today – thinking I’d be ready to part with it in the Great Bedroom Purge.  While it is a little large on me, it’s not falling off, and I’m debating it.  But unless I wear it more often, I should be tossing donating it.

The pairing reminds me of arguments with my mother.  In high school we wore a uniform (yup Catholic school!), white blouse, plaid skirt and kneesocks, with the option of pants/shirts/sweaters that were white, navy, or hunter green.  I hated pairing black shoes with navy – like nails on a chalkboard I couldn’t do it.  Not that I’m very fashionista, but just my innate sense of how color theory SHOULD work, it was wrong.  Since I didn’t have navy shoes, I’d wear brown.  My mom thought this was just as wrong as I felt about black.

Seems a quick google shows the black vs brown battle has no clear winner.  Some contend that the shoes must be as dark or darker than the outfit (seems to be a definite rule in menswear), but others offered recommendations of different colors altogether which are lighter.  Yikes.  Well, with the white and light blue pinstripes, maybe my warm brown shoes are a fashion offence.  But I’m happy and comfortable, so if anyone gives me a hard time I’ll just kick them with my awesome shoes.  😛    Hey look – my blog theme is blue and brown.  If it works in graphic design, why not in fashion???

Photo fun

rainbow socks in the rain

Rainbow socks brighten a rainy day!

Put on this pair of pants today that I haven’t worn in years.  Lost weight but still kindof in between sizes, as they are tight, and short, but all the better to show off my socks! 😀

My shoes are my daily shoes that I wear to work – so comfortable unless really walking long distances – dansko clogs.  Photo taken on way to get lunch at the building next door, because if I tried taking one in my cubicle my coworker may think I’m strange.  (By now most of them should KNOW I am!  But I didn’t feel like fielding questions.)

So I thought about doing some retail therapy this morning.  Given the nature of the unravelling ecourse, I hopped back over to the Lomography site.  I had drooled over some of their items before, and almost got the disposables with color flash filters for Burning Man.  But given the lower price of the actual cameras, it makes more sense to get a regular one – I won’t care TOO much if it gets destroyed by the dust, but with a little caution it should be fine.  (I never would risk my DSLR.  Yeah it’s not top of the line, but I couldn’t replace it if something happened.)

I was happily perusing when I was called away by my boss, and much to our surprise – our project group got gift checks for meeting an important deadline!! So when it came down to it, I couldn’t choose between a fisheye and a colorsplash, and I got both.  Just over double what I would have wanted to spend, but half was covered by my bonus. (Free shipping, and bundled with a bunch of film which cost less than half the price of buying it separately.)

Next time, maybe it will be an instant camera (Susannah who teaches the course loves polaroids…) or one of the multi-lens options (I linked to 3 of the varieties but there’s a few more.)

Notice how well my reward inspired me to work hard today? 😛  Knowing the crunch that will happen before the deadline (which keeps changing), I know I’ll be working like crazy regardless of how little or much gets done now.

Stormy Sky, just before hail, Clark Park, Philadelphia

Stormy Sky, just before hail, Clark Park, Philadelphia

“Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to
experience the world in the way they have been told to.”
-Alan Keightley

Read:

A Brief Guide to World Domination at the Art of Nonconformity. (There’s a PDF document that you can view or download on that page.)

Answer:

#1: What do you really want to get out of life?

#2: What can you offer the world that no one else can?

Feel free to share here.

I am still refining my answers.  I read other people’s answers at the link above not to cheat but to help put it into words.  (I seem to “know” things and have difficulty finding the words to express it, clearly and simply sometimes.)

#1:

Above all else, I want to be happy.  This doesn’t mean I’ll never be mad or sad, but I want the general emotion/feeling of my life to be happiness.

I think that getting/maintaining this happiness (I think this past year has definitely been one of my happiest!) involves a balance of simple times at home (and quality time with friends/family) and adventurous travels.

I think that my ideal life would be similar to this person’s comment –

My dream is to enjoy useful, engaging, and lucrative work with the flexibility to live comfortably, give generously, travel regularly, sleep in, hang out, get fit, and cook (and eat) luxuriously until the end of my days.

Being any more concrete than this is difficult – I have many dreams, some of which are the kind that you always have as dreams, and some I do hope to actually do.  I don’t have any career goals except one that I find fulfilling and supports me/my family and the things that bring us the most joy.

#2:

This is the hard one.  Yeah I can wimp out and just say no one else has the same views/thoughts/whatever that I have, because yeah we are all special flowers.  Whoop-de-do.

I don’t know what I am good at or what makes me unique.  Because I’ve only ever been me, and can’t really judge without bias.

Some people think I’m brave/adventurous, for traveling abroad alone, for going to Burning Man, for spinning fire, things like that.  But I know so many people that are way more adventurous than I am.

I know I have some talents/skills, but I feel like I’m more a jack-of-all-trades rather than excelling in any area.

The things that truly feel the most “me” – the most unique and self identifying traits… I don’t see those as things that I can offer the world, they are just my characteristics – not much different than the color of my hair or eyes.

I don’t know of anything I can offer that no one else can.

I know I care too much, do too little, can be way too selfish, battle with myself, usually am inspired more than inspiring others.  I know I (sometimes) don’t let fear get in the way of new adventures, but the fear and the voices of the “shoulds” (parents/society/whatever) haunt me and sometimes win, and I’m not proud of that.

I know I don’t know all the answers, and can be gullible at times, but tend to stay neutral in arguments between friends because I can see valid points on each side.  I try to be a peacemaker and avoid drama, but often at the cost of my own peace.

Maybe I’m hung up on the “uniqueness” of what I think this answer should be.

It may also be tied into some personal changes in thought that have morphed over the past year, and specifically around the election, on how I feel we can impact the world the most.  And I’m not sure I’m ready to put that out in a public blog yet because it’s just too raw still and different from anything I really envisioned for my life.  But you never know what the future holds, and whether that path will be mine or not….

Anyway.  I invite you to think of your own answers, whether or not you share them here.

And – this is kind of a scary request (but let’s be adventurous)…  What do YOU feel I have to offer the world that no one else can?