For the past few months I have been in hibernation mode, waiting for the light to reappear and our summer adventures to start. Looking through my recent pictures I realise I’ve been posting a lot of symmetrical and posed pictures on both blogs and Instagram. But it gets tiring to stage things all the time and my family is beginning to get a little frustrated with me. “It’s a set up!” they cry as I lay the table. “It’s a set up!” they yell as I ask them to hold things perfectly still.
It was time, I realised, to rediscover my more spontaneous side and look around me. So I was intrigued when Luisa Brimble recommended a book on her site called “Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes” by Andy Karr and Michael Wood. You may remember a post I wrote last year describing a meditation practice called Fresh Eyes. It’s a way of seeing the world in a new way and appreciating things without imposing an extra layer of dissatisfaction or judgment. Contemplative photography, also known as Miksang photography takes this one step further and applies it the way we use our cameras.
The authors of “Contemplative Photography” provide an accessible introduction to this approach. They encourage you to read the chapters carefully and then, before tackling the exercises, to examine the example images. I really did take the time to let those images sink in before I started any of the exercises.
The first exercise was to look for colour. Sounds easy, right? But it was more complex than that. I had to look for a specific colour (no nature, no words, not from a distance) and then I had to stop when I noticed the colour. Literally stop where I was. And contemplate whatever it was that had stopped me. I had to understand what I was seeing, what was included in my perception of the colour and only then I was allowed to raise my camera. After raising the camera to my eye, I then had to make the equivalent judgment and decide whether the image in my viewfinder was the same image that had stopped me. When I was happy that I had fulfilled the criteria I was allowed to take the picture. Here are some examples I took of red around our home.
They’re not earth-shattering, but I like the way that I was able to concentrate on just the red. On Sunday we headed to the Columbia Road Flower Market, and once again I concentrated on the reds. These aren’t the sort of pictures I would normally take. I felt I was able to isolate the colour and just focus on that. It was a wonderful feeling of freedom, and has given me a new way of looking at the world — the “fresh eyes” of the book’s subtitle.
I have looked at the next chapters of this book. But I’m taking them slowly. I am relishing each exercise, and practising. (It’s a bit like “Karate Kid”.) It takes time and effort to develop fresh eyes.