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Mindful : October 2013
October 2013 mindful 41 play people Things are always changing in gross or subtle or very subtle ways, but our thinking minds a re oblivious to all but the most obvious cha nges. Your bedroom will appear one way in ea rly morning light, a nother way in broad daylight, a nother way in artificial light, and yet another way in the middle of the night. Yet all of these a re boiled down to “my bedroom.” Change-blindness is particularly acute when it comes to people. When we see someone—even ra ndom strangers in the street—labels and concepts come insta ntly to mind: “He looks nice.” “They seem creepy.” “I like her.” With people we know well, we often see only our version of them: “my boss,” “my father,” “my child,” and not the people themselves, as they are, in that ver y mo- ment. We don’t look beyond the labels to see the fleeting expressions on their faces, what they’re wearing, how they’ve combed their hair that day. The purpose of the people assignment is to help us have fresh, direct perceptions of people, to see them as they are, instead of our versions of them. You’ll face challenges doing this assignment. You might get embarrassed taking people’s pictures. It’s probably best to star t with those you know well: friends, family, and coworkers. If you keep things low-key, the camera will soon lose its novelty and you and your subjects will be able to relax. Another challenge is that people being photographed might try to project images of what they think will make them look good, rather than just being natural. This strained effect will show up in the final image. It gives people a stiff and lifeless look. You may have to wait them out to get fresh expressions. The most basic challenge you will face is dealing with the ideas that will crop up in your mind about people. If you try to take a picture of “my friends having fun at Bob’s birthday par ty,” rather than photograph- ing a strong visual perception, you will end up with a snapshot. “Friends having fun” is a mental image, not a visual one. Remember, the camera makes images of what “it sees” (so to speak), not what you think about it. You can try to boycott these thoughts, but the best way to deal with them is to be aware of them and let them be. If you’re patient and open, flashes of perception will come to you. When fresh perceptions do come, don’t rush to take a picture. Look fur ther. Discern what you’re seeing. You might have to invite the person to hold still for a minute while you ask yourself if their whole body was par t of the perception or only par t of it. The perception could be just the area around their eyes or par t of their silhouette. When you’re confident that you know what you’re perceiving, take the photograph. This contemplative approach will help you photograph people in fresh ways. It might also help you see the people you already know in a new light. ●