The Contemplative Photograph

January 01, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

In the past few years, I have begun a practice of slowing down and allowing stillness to be a part of my life. This is a result of always having something urgent that needs tending to nagging me from inside my head. I suspect that there is a law that states that all empty space must be filled with something, regardless of its inherent importance or value. The times we live in require management and maintenance. All the gadgets that are designed to make my life simpler, paperless, and free up time have fallen a bit short on delivery. Multiple email accounts need attention, my cell phone is always with me, and stuff just keeps popping up like prairie dogs heads from their holes. Sadly I have plenty of company that share this daily experience.

 

The photographic compositions I am drawn to have stillness, spaciousness, and a sense of peace about them. Ordinary objects take on new meaning, on a surface level they are familiar and common. Their simplicity draws me to spend time with them. I am drawn into the photo and the more I look the more I see. Composition, light, tone, texture, and color touch a place in my mind that has a familiar feel to it. Photographs of this type only happen when the artist slows down, quiets the mind, and lets the moment unfold. Not all photographers work this way. Subject type often determines work practice. Some subjects require fast pace camera work. For the sake of discussion I limit the scope of this blog to the contemplative photograph. We all experience the inner chatter our minds seem compelled to flood our consciousness with. Bits and pieces of everything in our memory pop up like random pieces of a puzzle, fade away only to be replaced with another bit of chatter unrelated to the first. At times it seems like I am in the company of a person who just can't stop talking. Not a fun way to spend a photographic field trip, and not helpful in seeing the unfolding moment right before you. Slowing down your personal pace, and stillness of mind elevates concentration. The effective use of space in a composition often enhances the feeling of stillness. Also helpful is minimizing equipment. I often use just two lenses, and live with my choices. I Give myself time to be quiet and observe what is around me. This stillness often seems like nothing is happening at first. When I allow the quietness to be, I begin to notice compositions I might have missed. Subtle things, wonderful things, are all around me if I slow down, think a little less, and allow for a more natural process to take place.

 

Years ago I needed to produce a series of slides for a lecture. The topic of discussion was visualization, and developing productive shooting habits. I found a rusted trash container in a State Park I was photographing, and slowed down long enough to see the rust pattern had formed a face. It was not noticeable immediately, only revealed itself when I became quiet enough to see it. Then I could not UN-see it. I made a series of shots starting at wide angle, to show the overall area. Then over the span of six slides, I narrowed down to eventually show only the face, obvious to everyone. Keeping my mind centered on the present moment enhances concentration and sharpens visualization. On another self assignment in northern Arizona, I was hiking in the desert just at sunrise. The quiet and stillness of that morning was unlike anything I've ever experienced back east where I live. The Sun broke the horizon casting long shadows across the sand and sagebrush. There was no sound of the wind, birds, or any other creature. The sound of my breath was the loudest sound around me. With total silence, shifting shadows, and the aroma of sage I became immersed in the moment, nothing else existed. I was more alive than I had ever been, my senses the sharpest. The chatter box in my head, the pressures of the future, and regrets of the past all vanished, I was so focused I was barely aware of my camera. These rare moments are wonderful. They do not have to be rare. With some training, and discipline being in the moment is available to us all. We become our true selves, unencumbered by that chatterbox in our heads. I'll end with a quote for you to think about...“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up” – Pablo Picasso


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