I had started a few posts and trailed off, not really able to form cohesive paragraphs about what I’ve been thinking. In fact, I haven’t really formed any cohesive thoughts in a couple of months…
But something has been in there, being subconsciously mulled over and growing a personality. It’s not come from any new source of inspiration, though, just a couple that I’ve seen a while ago and they have burrowed into my mind and planted little seeds of ideas that are growing into something recognisable now. Two in particular – my old favourite, that essay by Bill Jay on “The Thing Itself” about actually concentrating on choosing your subject carefully more than the style you apply to it, and more recently listening to an interview on the Candid Frame with Michael Wood where he talks about the principles of Miksang (a Tibetan word meaning ‘Good Eye’) as applied to photography.
When we look at the world around us, we have that much visual input that we can’t possibly take in every detail. We skim over, and end up substituting what’s really in front of us with an object made up from a few things: our memories of discovering the thing for the first time; different visual representations of the thing as seen in the media, or through a filter of past experiences that change our perception of it. That could explain how sometimes you look at a picture you took and could swear that it looks nothing like the subject did, even when it’s a straight representation. Our mind both filters out unwanted information and fills in details where something is missing, without our realising.
I think when a lot of photographers talk about being ‘in the zone’, it has a lot to do with switching off that filter and automatic labelling (this is a red rose, so it must be velvety soft, delicate, and deep red) and really seeing what’s in front of them. I love Andy Chen’s take on it, as ‘Re-enchantment’ – discovering what’s beautiful around you as if you’d never seen it before. This stuff has definitely got as much to do with photography as what you do with the camera once you’ve seen it. It’s probably also why sometimes your muse appears to have left you, maybe because your mind is preoccupied with something else in life and you can’t let go enough of that to free it up for the purpose of seeing.
That takes me on to one of the things I hadn’t been able to form a cohesive paragraph about. Some people seem to be able to take photographs when they are in any kind of mood. They channel that mood through the pictures. But I can’t do that. I can only shoot when I’m able to clear my mind – luckily sometimes the act of bringing my camera for a walk and trying to tune in to that calmness will actually bring me out of my mood and allow me to shoot, happily, uninhibited by sadness, worry or doubt. Images that I make when I’m not there are thoughtless and empty – perhaps this is a pretty good representation of how I was feeling but it’s not what I want my photography to be about. Luckily I’m not alone in that, I’ve heard/read numerous people confirming that they, too, see photography and art in general about escapism and wonder. It’s not big and clever to run with the pack but it is sometimes nice to find a bit of validation.
Considering my choice of subject in more detail, and applying the initial Bill Jay ‘litmus test’ to it by asking “would I be interested in it if I wasn’t photographing it?”, made me realise that the one subject I keep coming back to – the one I am able to switch into that mindful, effortless concentration with the most ease when photographing, is the one that I do actually have a separate interest in besides photography. I’m fascinated by how things grow, how they form in different ways, unfolding, uncurling, stretching up and spreading out and developing buds and petals and seeds. After shooting landscapes, cityscapes, people or anything else, filling the viewfinder with leaves and petals always feels like coming home. Maybe this is how photographers find their niche.
I might have a part II to this, but for now I need to hit the ‘publish’ button and stop dithering!