THE PRACTICE OF CONTEMPLATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY
Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes
Excerpt from the chapter “Art in Everyday Life”
Even though things usually seem solid and enduring, nothing really lasts a second moment. Our experiences are always in the process of disintegrating and transforming. As photographers, we can know this intimately. Photographers are always working with light, and light is always changing. The brightness changes; the angle changes; the color changes; the diffuseness changes. Not only does the light change, whatever is illuminated changes with the light. As Mies van der Rohe, one of the great pioneers of modern architecture and design, famously observed, “God is in the details.”
Ordinary experience is the raw material of our photographic art. Photographer, writer, and curator Beaumont Newhall wrote, “We are not interested in the unusual, but in the usual seen unusually.” When we separate our artistic activity from daily life, we cut ourselves off from our most valuable resource. We divide the world into the worthwhile and the unimportant; the meaningful and the merely functional. Instead of appreciating what we have, we look for something better, something more beautiful, more entertaining. Seeking extraordinary perceptions and special artistic experiences leads us to overlook the riches that surround us. We might dream of being successful artists, living in the south of France or northern California, while ignoring the golden glow of sunlight on the kitchen sink. Instead of looking elsewhere for nourishment, we can live artistic, elegant lives, appreciating the details of our ordinary existence.
Strangely enough, you don’t need to learn how to be artistic. It is as natural as breathing and the beating of your heart. Nevertheless, natural artistry is often inaccessible because it is concealed by preoccupation or resentment. A good analogy for this is the way the sun constantly radiates light even though you can’t always see it. The sun is always shining, even when clouds cover the sky. No one has to make the sun shine. Sunshine becomes visible when the wind removes the clouds. Like that, artistry arises from mind’s natural wakefulness, creativity, and humor when the obstacles that obscure it are cleared away. This is the main point of the whole contemplative endeavor: you don’t need to learn how to fabricate creativity; you need to learn to remove the clouds that prevent it from expressing itself.
Praise for The Practice of Contemplative Photography
“This is not your usual ‘how to be a better photographer’ book. It takes you into deeper water. It requires investigation and commitment to areas new to you. Among other things, you will think about per-ception in new ways. If you read this book with care, and without skepticism, it will radically expand your thinking, seeing, and photo-graphy.”
—Jay Maisel, photographer and author of Light, Gesture, and Color
“Contemplative photography is about seizing the present moment as one would delicately hold a poppy without shedding its petals. It is about nonattachment; one has nothing to lose and nothing to gain, but everything to offer to the eyes of the viewer. In this beautiful and inspiring book, Andy Karr and Michael Wood introduce us to an approach to photography that nourishes our spiritual life rather than distracting us from it.”
—Matthieu Ricard, photographer and author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill
The Seeingfresh.com Website
Seeingfresh.com is a companion website to The Practice of Contemplative Photography, offering practice instructions, photo galleries, author profiles, and more.
Members of the contemplative photography community submitted over 15,200 photos between 2011 and 2017. These images were reviewed and published in assignment galleries, which are organized to showcase the great photos that were submitted.
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