When I met my photographer husband, Chris, I noticed the way that he looks at the world is different to the way I do. He has a skill in seeing beauty in places that many of us don’t even notice. As a result, we have had many conversations about mindfulness and photography. This week he is our guest blogger and you can check out more of his awesome work (I know, I’m biased!) at www.iwant2create.co.uk
Mindfulness And Photography
Since my late teens photography has been the main focus of my life. Back then film was still in its prime and digital cameras still in their infancy (Adobe had only just released the 4th version of Photoshop) and it was the process of developing my own photographs that I fell in love with. The darkroom became my playground, a sanctuary where I spent hours experimenting and eagerly awaiting the results of my latest roll of film.
It was over a decade later, after my passion had developed into a career, that I was exposed to meditation and the concept of mindfulness. It was a strange mixture of enlightening and reaffirming concepts for me. A lot was very new, opening an aperture in my mind, while other elements I had worked out by my own means without realising – which begs the question how mindful is photography?
From personal experience I find that photography can be both mindful and not mindful in equal measure, or at least my approach to it is. Sometimes you are capturing moments and other times you are creating moments but how often are you in that moment? In modern society events are captured for posterity, whether it be a family dinner, a night out or a birthday party; we’ve all had that moment when someone pulls out a camera and gets you to pose. For me this is a perfect example of the human condition obsessed with dwelling on the past and thinking about the future. There is of course no more significant example of this than a wedding; an official photographer is an essential part of the day. It makes you wonder how people managed to get married in the millennia before the medium was invented! But what purpose does the photographer serve? It is about recording the event for future viewing. It is an open acknowledgement that we will at some point in the future spend time reminiscing about the moment we are experiencing now, but will then be the past. Having said that, apart from the formal images, where guests are thinking about the dinner they are about to have and the photographer is making sure they get each image on their checklist, there are the informal images. Those images where people don’t know the picture’s been taken. So a wedding represents both sides of the coin because these images are not planned and are often the ones people enjoy look back at the most.
But what about other kinds of photography? As a commercial photographer, I am often given a brief to follow. Sometimes the image required by a client has been planned out in specific detail, so with all that planning can it be mindful? Again it’s a weird mix, the preparation and thought process of how the image is to be used once taken does affect the shoot. You need to make sure all elements are accounted for. If the image is to be used in an advert or editorial piece does it allow space for copy? Are there any unwanted items in view? However once these conditions are satisfied and you are looking through the viewfinder and checking that you have framed the exact shot you are after, it is quite mindful. All other distractions are forgotten, it is all about that moment that you have created. Of course sometimes briefs are more open to interpretation so you have to be able to spot things that will make great images. Tuning into the surroundings and being aware of all that is going on can lead to amazing pictures. When photographing landscapes I am often alone and will camp out in a desired location. Although I will set out with a specific area in mind and a route planned, I always allow for the unexpected. I immerse myself in my surroundings, observe the changing weather, the changing light and stop often to meditate. Landscape photography is about patience, depending on the position of the sun and the formation of clouds a scene can be drastically different from one moment to the next. Sometimes you need to react as quickly as when trying to capture a performers climactic finale and sometimes you will sit in one position for hours waiting for the conditions to change. But like the examples I mentioned before, while a certain amount of mindfulness is present in this pursuit, with the sole aim to create photographs being the purpose of a trip sometimes things can be overlooked in the search for the picturesque. Ultimately it can become about ownership, when there’s a beautiful sunset we are compelled to capture it. Or we want to have that sunset over a favourite location, but don’t make it there in time we can end up disappointed.
So do I think photography is a mindful exercise? Well it can be, and being able to tune out all other stimulus to concentrate on image creation can be a calming practice. But sometimes it can be a distraction to life itself. We all love looking at pictures as much as taking them, that’s why apps like Instagram and Vsco are so popular. But just as scrolling through your phone or viewing life through it’s lens might seem like it’s being in the moment, it acting as a filter removing you from what’s actually happening. My real life reaction to this, is that I sometimes go on holiday without my camera. What? I hear you cry, but sometimes I want to leave it behind and just experience things with my own eyes and not be weighed down with the burden of trying to immortalise what’s happening. It boils down to knowing when to just put the camera down and savour the moment.
Chris White, www.iwant2create.co.uk