"Without seeing things as they are, it is hard to create art. Our perceptions are obscured and our mind is not fresh, so making art becomes a troubled, futile process by which we're trying to create something based on concept."
"I am almost always in a rush, even when I'm sitting down doing nothing. I'm often thinking of what lays ahead, a dozen different thoughts fighting for some elbow room inside the little space within my skull. Meditation helps a great deal in quieting the noise and providing me the breathing room to focus, but nothing really does it for me as when I go out with my camera and begin to photograph."
I saw this opening paragraph today in a great post on Perello's blog. Our lives are so hectic these days that I think it can be a challenge for us to step out of that mindset. Like him, I find that meditation does help to stop the chatter for a while, or at least dial it back a bit. But the only time I can truly say that I'm completely in the 'now' with a quiet mind is when I'm out taking pictures, especially when I'm by myself in nature.
To be able to experience a quiet mind like that to me is one of the greatest gifts photography can give to the person behind the lens. It may take a while once we get out there to get away from our habituated mind. But after a time it's almost like the lens itself falls away and we interact with our subjects in a way that most people don't get to experience.
In order for this to happen though, we can't rush from spot to spot looking for the next good picture. Slow down. Stop. Look. Use your other senses to perceive your surroundings. See the interplay of light and shadow. Try to see not just what initially caught your eye but instead what the real essence of your subject might be. In doing so I think you'll find that your mind will quiet down and you have a much better chance of capturing a meaningful photograph. And even if you don't, slowing down and 'seeing' has it's own benefits beyond any picture.
One of my favorite modern photographers is Vincent Versace. I love his fine art photography but, even more than the images themselves, I love his approach to photography. If you've had the chance to attend one of his classes or workshops, you know what I mean (and if not, do yourself a favor and go). He is the one photographer who's classes I make it a point to attend at every Photoshop World I go to.
For Versace, it's not about technique, although he'd be the first to tell you that "perfect practice makes perfect." For Vincent, creating remarkable images that speak to something deeper is about "seeing" with that other eye we have. The eye we develop from careful observation, not by simply repeating a technique we've learned. To truly see and capture the essence of the scene in front of the lens and reveal its true essence, not just a documentary record of what we saw.
If this sounds at all interesting to you, and I hope it does, take some time to read and absorb an excerpt from his upcoming book, Return To Oz. You can find it here as a guest post on Scott Kelby's Photoshop Insider.
To get a hint of what Versace is talking about:
"There is a revolution in photography happening. We are witnessing it now; the digital image for the first time allows anyone onto the pathway to creative greatness. A place where impossible is merely an opinion, an opinion that is held not by the viewer of the image but by the creator of that image. Which means that personal imagination is then the only limitation. It is important to not merely focus on technique for technique’s sake, but to discover what it means to see rather than merely look. It is in that direction that you will come full circle and find the voice within you that yearns to be heard and needs to be heard. Once you discover that technique is merely a detail—a consideration, nothing more—then in that moment the voice within you, the visual poet who fell in love with photography, will be free to create images that will change the world of those who view them."
I've recently been rereading the Tao Te Ching with the thought of seeing how it can apply to being mindful behind the lens. I've been pleasantly surprised to find that there are many verses that we can use and think about.
For me, one of the greatest joys of photography are those times when you're clicking away, working the scene, and everything else has just fallen away. You're not thinking about your job, your family, or anything that's been troubling you. You are completely immersed in what you are doing with the scene in front of you. If you've spent any amount of time behind the lens, you know what I'm talking about. The objects arrange themselves perfectly, the light is right where you want it and you know you are getting the shots you want. I liken this to 'Being in the Zone' athletically. It simply becomes effortless.
I think at that point, we have tapped into something bigger than ourselves. It's almost as though everything has aligned to come together in front of your lens at that very moment. I don't think we can call on this moment when we need it. It resists being controlled. I think the best you can do is to know your gear, head into the world with an open mind, put yourself in a spot you think worthy, and simply wait to see what happens. Wait for whatever "it" is to reveal itself.
It won't always happen, but when it does, you will know it for what it is and be grateful. With that in mind, the Tao Te Ching speaks to this idea: