Archive for May, 2010


Searching

We  spend so much of our time searching for something.  Quite often we don’t know what that something is.  With photographers we search for  the light, the next brilliant shot or for inspiration.  Out of our photog role, we still search for many things.  Love, satisfaction, a great job – so many things.

Most of our searches can be redefined as looking for happiness.  But – do we always know when we have found happiness?  It seems that we define happiness too specifically, and it seems to be that for many it must include the material world.  It is hard to be happy if you are watching your child die of starvation or some horrible disease.  But unless we are faced with those nightmares, does the material play a role in happiness?

For me, happiness is found in tiny incidents in daily life – walking into a peaceful room after noise from outside; seeing bees in flowers; having a talk with a friend, watching light play across leaves or relaxing gratefully into bed after a long day.  The happiness and pleasure in these simple activities is with us daily.

But, this level of happiness is subliminal,and if we don’t notice it, don’t stop to appreciate it, then it goes and we continue looking for the kind of happiness that hits us in the face – winning money, finally wearing a wedding ring, buying a  new car.

Why do we believe that these big things constitute happiness?  Is it because everywhere we turn we are bombarded with advertisements that tell us that happiness can be bought?  Your next purchase will guarantee that the love of your life will appear or that you will be respected or envied by colleagues and neighbours?

The small things, the minutiae of life are for the most part, free.  No-one can make a profit from them and so they are devalued and dismissed.

The small things do cost us though.  They cost us time and attention.  We need to slow down to look at listen for them, we need to give ourselves space and peace to enjoy them.  We need to understand that our happiness is in our own hands, not the hands of a salesman or advertiser, or in the concepts of wealth and power.

Knowing that happiness is ONLY within our own control, not able to be given or removed by others also costs us spiritually.  It means that we need to assess how much of our unhappiness we chose to have, how little happiness we chose to look for.  While we can blame another for making us unhappy, or expect another to make us happy, we will never be happy.  Giving up this excuse, looking at ourselves clearly and taking responsibility hurts.

Accepting that happiness is within our own control also allows us to find happiness, because we are now free to look within and in the ‘free’ world for it.

Interpretation

Interpretation

When we take photos how do we interpret what we have taken?  Do photos mean what we want them to mean?  Do we take a leaf from Humpty-Dumpty in ‘Through the Looking-Glass”  and claim that “When I (take) a (photo) … it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”?  How do we interpret meaning in our photographs?

We can accept the conventional interpretation of a photograph – this is a mountain, this is a happy family, this is a beautiful flower.  This is the easy path, the simple and uncomplicated way of interpreting what we see.  But it is not necessarily the most useful method if we are to gain a greater understanding of our world or ourselves.

We need to ask what is left in the photo, what has been removed by judicious cropping and enhancements.  Questioning why this crop, that enhancement begins to clarify some of our views of this particular scene. Each time we move to find a better angles, change our pov or zoom the lens to change the focus of the shot, we are making decisions about what is important and interesting to us.  In our computer manipulations of the shot, cropping, enhancing, re-working the shot, we are eliminating the parts that do not say what we want the photograph to mean.  Our interpretation of that photograph becomes sharper and clearer each time we make a change.

We finally create a photograph that we believe means what we choose it to mean, no more, no less.    We have changed the original to meet our interpretation.

In this process we sometimes ask “Are we presenting a reality, are we recording a sliver of history, how accurate/reliable is it?”  In the end, we continue to manipulate and interpret the shot until it meets our version of reality, history and carries our internal construct of reliability and accuracy.

This process is incredibly freeing, for what we are doing is moving away from a conventional, classical categorisation of the world around us into a world where we can choose the way to view the world in a way that meets our changing interests.  We are not confined to an interpretation based on other conventions or beliefs, or religion or any other social construct.  This freedom also gives us the chance to accept and embrace changes within ourselves.  We know that change is possible, realignments of our interests or our beliefs allow us to see the world and ourselves in new and changing ways.

Critique

Individuality and creativity

.. .(presenting)  your personal work is a central part of creative art; in exposing your ideas and expressions to the cold light of impersonal inspection, your work – and your own attitude to it – gains strength.  … Diffidence inhibits creativity. Tom Ang.

I find it difficult to show my work.  I question why anyone would be interested, why people would be bothered to look at my photographs (slide night anyone??)  or read my writings.  I frequently ask ‘WHY”  I have a blog, why I put photos on on my blogs or Facebook. And the only answer I was able to find until I read Tom Ang, was that I am a photographer and writer and therefore, it is something I need to do. I have to express myself..

But, if I look at the process from the other point of view, that I am aiming to strengthen my work, then this gives me another acceptable answer.   Knowing that others may view my photos  drives me to consider, compose and  take shots that express what I want to say.  Thinking that someone may read my writing makes me choose my words more carefully, and revise more.  Sometimes I find this revision and culling process very helpful in developing my craft and attitude.  I have to ask myself what is it about this shot, what about this idea that expresses what I mean.  Often I see that I could have improved my technical skills, or that what I saw in my mind’s eye was not what appeared on my screen.  Other times, I feel as if I just want to relax and enjoy the shots for their memories or the weird way they turned out. I want to play with the words.

When I look at my periods of deepest personal growth, they have happened most often when I have been placed in a situation where I had an impersonal eye looking carefully at me. Therapists or colleagues, friends or enemies can all call us on our behaviour and our barriers and challenge us to move past whatever it is that is holding back our growth.

What do we fear most from critiques?  That we will be told everything we have done is wrong?  That we are hopelessly inadequate ourselves?  Are we afraid that if others look at our work or us too carefully we will be exposed for frauds as artists or people?

Once we have heard this challenge, it is still up to us to decide whether we can take it on or not.  Will we by-pass this call for change?  Will we be happy enough with the level we are at, ignoring the potential for improvement?

If we accept the need for change, for growth – are we afraid our growth will take us in directions others do not understand?  That our work will be too different, that we will be too individualist to fit within the comfortable framework we have operated in for the last few years?

Improving as a photographer or writer could bring more opportunities for more critiques.  Am I willing to move down that road?  Am I willing to put more work, my vision and my individuality out there, for more and more people to see and to critique?  They will continue to challenge me.  I will continue to have to make a choice between more learning and saying ‘Enough’.

The more I place my work in public, the more I open myself to challenge as well.  Am I prepared to continue on the journey of self-discovery and change in public?  I think Tom Ang’s words apply equally to our inner growth.  We need to critique ourselves, our actions with a dispassionate eye. We cannot allow ourselves to hide behind comforting excuses, blaming others, the situation, our birth order for what we are or for our actions.

Fear of turning the cold light on ourselves means that we hide in the shadows and lose the chance for taking the next steps forward.

Bring on the critiques!

Peace and permanency

Langmusi mountains

No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being” Ansel Adams. 

Langmusi is my favourite place in China.  A village surrounded by mountains and high grasslands.  The beauty is indescribable, and I return annually to nourish my soul, fill my eyes and heart with the beauty and spend time with my Tibetan mates.

Thinking so much about transience and change lately naturally took me in the opposite direction – thinking about permanence.  When I look at mountains, grasslands, wide plains and oceans I feel a deep comfort at what seems to be their permanence and taking it further, their endurance.  In a changing world, what looks permanent, looks safe.  The permanent seems to offer us a refuge from the restlessness around us and the constant need for us to be reacting, thinking, analysing and managing.

The mountains and oceans, these vast places do speak to the core of my being.  I can be with them in silence for many hours, letting the majesty and strength of them fill me with strength and courage.  Letting the vastness of them extend my soul a little wider and deeper.

I look at mountains and oceans and see endurance.  The mountain vegetation, nothing like the lush growth in the valleys, speak to me of endurance and strength.

But is this permanence an illusion?  Oceans are forever moving and changing, mountains rise and fall depending on seismic shifts and erosion.  The mountain vegetation or the ocean kelp beds die and renew.  Is there anything that we can call ‘permanent”?

For me their permanence lies in knowing that no matter what we as humans do, these mountains and oceans will be there for many eons after we disappear, as they were for many eons before we arrived.  The exteriors may change, but the core remains.

Having an enduring, eternal core for ourselves is necessary.  It is the basis of all else we do.  Knowing this core, strengthening it, deepening and broadening it, allows us to maintain our individuality in the face of the restless, impermanent world around us.

The ‘good eye’.

Light and Water

My readings in the world of wabi-sabi have also lead to readings about ‘miksang’ – a Tibetan Buddhist philosophy of seeing.

Miksang is a Tibetan word meaning “good eye” and represents a form of contemplative photography based on the Dharma Art teachings of Chögyam Trungpa, in which the eye is in synchronisation with the contemplative mind. The result of this particular perception of the world, combined with photography, produces a peculiar and open way of seeing the world. Miksang pictures tend to bring the observer back into the original contemplation  state of the author of the picture. The pictures can bring one back to a purer perception  of reality that is often neglected. Miksang involves nothing fancy, no special setup; only a visual capture, in the proper state of mind, of everyday reality .

This combination of the contemplative mind with looking deeply at things from daily life seems to fit beautifully with the wabi-sabi concept of seeing the beauty in impermanence and the peace within natural objects and shapes.  Wabi-sabi and miksang both call for an acceptance of things as they are and of allowing our inner being to respond to the beauty of the imperfect, of the melancholy of the beautiful, of seeing ourselves within these deeper simplicities.

Both philosophies call for a stripping away of the externalities and complexities that fill our lives, asking us to see more clearly and more deeply.  Looking at the world this way from a meditative state where the eye and the camera become one,  expresses the inner sight and at the same time, the inner being.

Miksang photography or art takes us into the small hidden things of the world – the patterns that create the world we see.  Examining the patterns of sand or leaf veins or the patterns made by bubbles in water opens our minds to the patterns we create in our own lives.  Are they permanent patterns, or like bubbles, transient?  Are they functional patterns, like those found in rings on a  tree or have these patterns lost functionality and we now follow them without thought, because we have always done so, or because it is the accepted behaviour for ‘people like us’?  Are our patterns of behaviour and thought natural or forced upon us?  Did we chose them to meet a need, now long forgotten?

Nature’s patterns have a purpose and we can examine them in detail to understand the reason.  We need also to examine our own patterns to see if they too have a purpose, and to see if the purpose behind this pattern is still good.  Do we hide behind the patterns we create to keep ourselves safe or protected from the world?

If we work with these ideas we may find that our patterns of thinking and seeing and behaving are no longer patterns, but prison bars, limiting our functionality, limiting our creativity, limiting our understanding..