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Mindful : October 2013
October 2013 mindful 35 play Stop Look ...See You are walking through the wide open spaces of a leafy park on a bright summer day. As you continue, dark clouds gather in the distant sky, moving toward you. You might notice how the light suddenly changes; how the foliage looks darker and the greens look richer; how the many shades of gray in the clouds give them more texture and shape. Or else you might start worrying about oncoming rain, a spoiled outing, and the likelihood of getting drenched. There are always two ways we can experience the world: directly or covered over by thoughts. Photography can offer us a way to get in touch with fresh, direct experience. More often, though, it’s just another blip in the flow of our inner chatter: “I like this.” “I don’t like that.” “ Interesting.” “ Boring.” “Not worth shooting at all.” “These things will make a g reat photograph.” Snap. But there’s another approach to pho- tography that many people have been discovering over the past few years. Contemplative photog raphy is a medi- tative practice that invites you into the richness of direct perception. It’s not a technique for ma king images that look “contemplative” but a method for seeing the world in fresh ways and communicat- ing what you see. You lea rn to recognize when eye, mind, and heart naturally come into alignment and use the camera to replicate this experience. 1 To begin, try to notice when there are gaps in the flow of your thinking. In these little breaks, which occur natura lly, fresh perceptions of sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch come through. Learning to recognize and appreciate simple, vivid Looking at the world through the lens on your iPhone? Here are three ways to take better pictures, but more importantly, take a moment to really see what’s in front of you. By Andy Karr Photographs by Terry Bell flashes of perception is the foundation for this practice. In this approach, the power of the final photograph comes from bringing together clear seeing with simple, straightforwa rd expression. 2 To communicate what you see well, you need to stay with the perceptions for more than an instant. After you experi- ence a flash of perception, rest with it long enough to understand what you’re see- ing—what part of the scene is included in the perception and what is not. Although this stage is called visual discernment, it’s not conceptual or analytical. You’re not figuring anything out or evaluating the scene emotionally, nor a re you reach- ing for your camera to capture anything. 3 The last stage is described by a term coined by one of the great America n photographers, Alfred Steiglitz. He talked about taking a photograph as forming the equivalent of the perception. The photo- graph and the perception a re obviously different things, but you aim to produce a n image that is equivalent to what you see. At this stage, you don’t try to do anything to make the photograph more interesting, dramatic, or compelling. You just ma ke an image of what you perceive. Making fine images does not require trav- el to exotic places, sophisticated technical skills, or expensive equipment. It does require clear seeing and a modest amount of photographic craft. Most of the images displayed here were made with an iPhone. The following pages present exercises involving color, texture, and people and will help you learn the basic technique described above. → Andy Karr is the coauthor, along with Michael Wood, of The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes. He is also curator of the contemplative photography website seeingfresh.com. As executive creative director at Vickers and Benson, one of Canada’s largest advertising agencies, Terry Bell won top honors from the Art Directors Club of New York, among many other awards. For the past 10 years he has been pursuing his lifelong passion for the photographic image. To see more of Terr y Bell’s iPhone photography go to mindful.org/iphonephotos