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non-technical psychology

Mindful photography

”Photographs are not taken or made. Photographs are given. ”

BLACK+WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY magazine issue 256 has an interesting article about mindful photography and is a good welcomed change in the average photography magazine articles. The article writes about how photographs are product of how good photographer perceives the world around her/him.

If you have missed mindfulness – it is an ancient technique but currently very trending (for a reason) way to handle our mind and cope with the world around us – here is a short summary: first of all it is not religious at all. It is about settling your mind by being present in the current moment which causes many positive effects in us. One of the result of practicing mindfulness is that it mutes/destroys your ego – and before you get thrown off; ego is actually bad thing in us.

Mindfulness is about loosing preconceptions and see world without prejudice. Meditation is the very center practicing method for mindfulness – and if you haven’t ever tried meditation – give it a chance. I would call it basic skill which every human should learn. Anyone will benefit from the technique and can be better person for themselves and for others. Personally I laughed at mindfulness before I started to practice it. It felt one of those ”nonsense” or ”trendy” bullshit. But as you might already assume – I don’t think it is anything like that anymore. Yes – it is trendy and vogue at the moment but that doesn’t put it down at all – it just tells how the current world is. We humans need mindfulness and we need to learn to live in the now.

Each lith print is like a meditation practice – for 5-10 minutes you don’t have anything else to do than just wait for the print to come alive in the red dim darkroom.

After reading the article in B+W magazine is started to realize many things related to photography.

One of the things that I realized was that Henri-Cartier Bresson’s ”Decisive Moment” is actually 100% about being aware, being awake. Photographer is living in the current moment, in the presence and captures it without preconception. Photographer reacts to the moment because that is everything there is. Decisive moments cannot be forced. Only way you can capture such moment is just to be in the moment. You cannot take photograph. It is given to you – by being aware, open and living in the moment truly.

Netflix has made brilliant documentary about photographer Platon who have been photographing celebrities and is very established and super interesting as a person. I strongly suggest watching that documentary, I promise it won’t be let you down. You can find it in YouTube – no need to subscribe to Netflix. In the documentary there is a scene where Platon is photographing Colin Powell and Platon just takes control of the situation in a very own way. Now when I re-think this scene I can actually see that Platon is just very very present in the moment. It is just too easy to understand now. Before finding mindfulness I couldn’t completely understand what was happening. And neither was Colin Powell, asking ”what the heck did just happen?”.

”Before shoot I’m not thinking how to get good picture, but what can I learn from this person – every time” (Platon)

Platon also describes that he wants to learn from the subjects he is photographing. And it shows. And that is actually very mindful – perceive the person by being in the present moment. He even seemed to get Putin a bit off by showing in true hear that he wants to learn from him. In todays light this is very contrasty. Think about such person as Putin – how many preconceptions people have about him when they interact with him. Then you put a person in front of him who doesn’t have any, who lives in moment and genuinely wants to learn from the subject. I’m pretty sure even Putin would declare that moment a bit rare and maybe it can throw Putin a bit off.

This doesn’t mean Platon is just going in with buddhism or by living in flower field. No. He does his work. He is prepared to all kind of scenarios how the subject might feel or act. He is very experienced photographer.

I sent the first paragraph of this article (quote from the magazine) to my friend who is avid portrait photographer. You would think that in studio-style work (set-up style work) mindful or decisive photography wouldn’t work. I started to think about it and came into conclusion that it actually works on that too. You cannot force a good portrait photograph. Only to certain extent you can prepare for the shoot; equipment, lightning, location, clothes, model. When at the shoot you actually just capture the moment that shows to you just being aware. If you try to force the good shot to happen, you are probably ruining it. First of all your model might loose motivation or get anxious. Think about very stressed photographer that tries to force everything to some preconception with negative energy – would that shoot end up in great portrait of the person? If you are using available light then you might end up with bad lightning conditions. Do you cancel the shoot (only stick to your preconception) or adapt to the situation (=start to live in present moment)?

I’ve started to understand more why some people prefer film over digital. My theory is that digital is too easy and therefore you don’t feel like ”sinking” into the moment. The more tedious camera, the more you need to concentrate and the less you have energy to think anything else. Shooting ”difficult” media might be more mindful because you have to concentrate harder. This reminds me of my other hobby; RC airplanes. Our RC club had a sign on the wall that said ”When airplane departs from ground, your mind detaches from ordinary life” – meaning when you are flying RC airplane, you need to concentrate so hard on the flying that you cannot think ordinary things, or anything else. RC airplane flyer lives in the moment. I’m not arguing that you cannot be mindful photographer when using digital camera – but it might be harder to be mindful if you are using digital. Also the constant peeping at the camera screen to check if your histogram is good detaches you from the moment. I do it too and I hate it. Instead of keeping your eyes on the subject, the scene and the moment, you fall staring at the screen, zooming/panning around. If that is not being somewhere else (rather than in current moment), then what is.

Next time you go photographing, before grabbing the camera, sit down. Close your eyes. Just concentrate on deep breaths and be in the moment, in the now. I promise you will feel better and maybe capture something you wouldn’t have got otherwise!

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