Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

How to See the World Anew

Learn from Buddhists to see (and photograph) mindfully.

Blue chair
Photo by Michael Wood
We just bought a new camera, so I was intrigued to discover an unusual new book: The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes (Shambhala). By Andy Karr and Michael Wood, both Buddhist meditators, the book features 188 compelling full-color photographs that showcase the concepts.

Contemplative photography is based on Buddhist mindfulness practice and the insightful work of artists like Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The latter, for example, is quoted as saying, "Thinking should be done beforehand and afterwards--never while actually taking a photograph."

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The theme here is how to become more mindful so that you will be able to see more directly, going beyond conventional photography's urge to collect images.

The authors take time to distinguish between perception and conception. See if this works for you: When you think/conceive of a skyscraper, you have certain mental images which aren't the exact same as the actual physical thing.

In contrast, perception is what you see when you allow your gaze to become aware of the whole visual field in front of you. "Visual images appear when consciousness connects with the eye. Mental images appear when consciousness connects with the conceptual mind." Thus, concepts would be the opposite of sensory experience.

While you're doing the "practice" described in this book, it's suggested you don't seek out locations that you think of as beautiful or photogenic. Rather, see the familiar in fresh ways. Work on dissolving the labels, dismantling the overlays and associations that pop into your mind at every moment. Just see.

Practice of Contemplative Photography
The first assignment offered by Karr and Wood is the Color Assignment, which includes some things TO DO and NOT TO DO. Look for bold vivid colors, not graphic designs or words or numbers or flowers. Spend half a minute looking at the color before lifting your camera. Don't shoot from across the street, but up close with nothing extra but the flash of color that stopped your gaze. And if you lose track of what stopped you, walk away and start over.

Consider adding mindful practice to your creative repertoire. Practical exercises and assignments should engage any open-minded person with a camera.


Copyright (c) 2011 by Susan K. Perry


Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.


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