183: Photography as meditation

(Willow stump.)

Yesterday, Kathy asked:

Here is a question, Robin. Do you find it easy to meditate with a camera? I find it a distraction many times, because the mind gets active watching for a possible shot, figuring out how to frame it, always moving outwards. I would like to learn how to meditate with a camera–but it hasn’t happened yet! Any advice?

Kathy’s question is so interesting to me that some of the neurons in my brain that fell asleep over the winter months awakened and started firing like crazy.  Little firecrackers in my head, going all active.  My brain is awake.  Yay.

I started to answer in comments but my answer was so long that it turned into a blog post. I will try not to turn this into the longest blog post ever.

And that desire — the strong desire to take pictures — is important.  It borders on a need, based on a habit:  the habit of seeing.  Whether working or not, photographers are looking, seeing, and thinking about what they see, a habit that is both a pleasure and a problem, for we seldom capture in a single photograph the full expression of what we see and feel.  It is the hope that we might express ourselves fully — and the evidence that other photographers have done so — that keep us taking pictures.  ~ Sam Abell, American photographer

Photography is often described as capturing a moment.  That’s true.  A crocus pushes up through the snow, a camera with a person attached to it (in some way) records it.  The moment when those tiny little bits of green show through the snow at that exact position in time is gone except for the photograph recording it and the photographer’s memory of it.  It becomes another moment, a personal moment, when someone else views it.

As I’ve noted here (I think) and in guest blog posts, photography puts me smack in the moment with a heightened awareness that I often find difficult to describe.   Perhaps a better description is feeling as if I am connected with everything.  I am present in the moment.  When I walk with my camera hanging around my neck, I rarely pay much attention to the camera itself.  I know it’s there in the same way I know my arms, hands, legs, and feet are there.  I feel it.  I am aware of lifting it, looking through the viewfinder, and taking a shot, in the same way I am aware of my feet on the earth or my arms and legs moving.

Here is a shocking bit of information about me:  I do not compose my shots.  I know.  It’s weird.  I do not consciously look at a scene and think about how I would frame it.  Subconsciously, maybe I do.  The thing is, I already see in frames.  I attribute that to having worn glasses most of my life, but I suppose it’s possible that’s just how my brain works.  I don’t believe there is anything mystical, magical, or highly artistic about it.  It is just the way I see and think.  I am fortunate in that there is a way for me to express the way I see and think.  Whenever there was a camera of any kind for me to attach to myself, I’ve taken advantage of it.  I borrowed cameras when I didn’t have the money to buy one of my own.   Taking a walk without a camera feels odd to me.  I do it once in a while because I think it’s healthy to take a break every now and then.

Although I am aware of the camera and the motions involved in taking a photo, I just don’t think about it.  At all.  I point, I shoot.  Sometimes I barely stop to do it.  The camera is, in many respects, an extension of me.  It is my way of seeing the moment as well as the world.  I am often surprised by what I find when it’s time to look at the photos.  I see things I could not have otherwise seen.  There is a drawback, though.  The camera doesn’t always see the way I see.  That’s why I’ve become more and more interested in fiddling with (processing) the photos in various programs including Photoshop, Picasa, and Picnik.  I’ve sometimes used all three for one photo to come up with what my “eye” (soul) observed.  It’s not merely an observation for me, and I think that is the difference between what I see (feel) and what the camera captures.

Photography is meditation for me in many respects.  When I am out walking and taking pictures, my mind often becomes quiet, relaxed, and present.  I’ve been known to use photography to help me through fear when hiking in high places (or on an airplane).  I lift the camera to my eye and the fear fades as my focus changes, physically and mentally.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rules of not composing, and photography as meditation.  If I go out with purpose (“today I am going to shoot This”), then it is not as much an extension of me as when I go out without expectations of any kind.  Taking photographs with intention is different than when I’m out on a hike or walk.  There might still be a meditative quality to it, something similar to a guided visualization as I usually try to map things out when I’m shooting with intention.  The other exception is shooting in manual mode, something I’ve been doing more of lately in an attempt to get the photo right in the camera so I don’t have to fuss with processing it later.  (Side note:  Shooting in manual mode has started to make me slightly unhappy with the auto modes.  That’s probably a good thing.)

As for advice, I’m not very good at that sort of thing.  You should do what feels right/best for you.  I think it may be different for everyone.  🙂

Today’s outdoor adventure

It’s another chilly day here in the Bogs.  Low temps in the teens, highs in the 30s.  At least we have sunshine, and the wind is still gusting occasionally but not quite as blustery as it was yesterday.

Today's view of the pond

I didn’t stay out any longer than I had to in order to meet my commitment.  It is just too cold.  I don’t think I whined this much about the cold throughout the winter.

Grackle in the locust tree

The birds don’t seem to be minding the cold too much today.  They’re active building nests or, in the case of the ducks, swimming in the pond.

The trees continue to bud, and the flowers have (so far) survived the cold nights.  The crocuses have shriveled a bit, but they might have been finished for the season.  The hyacinths are budding nicely.  If it continues to stay dry, I might get out in the garden soon to clean up the asparagus bed.

I should get some seeds started soon.  I’m not sure what I want to grow this year.  Tomatoes, of course.  Lettuces.  Maybe I’ll give rapini or swiss chard a try.

How about you?  Do you have a vegetable garden?  What do you plan to grow this year?