Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Tao of Photography by Phillippe Gross

    I short while back I came upon the book by Phillippe Gross, The Tao of Photography.  Reading it was like finding a mind that held hands with my own thoughts and expressed it all so beautifully.  I then found a wonderful video he has produced that offers all his concepts accompanied by striking images.   It is an excellent summary of the past 10 weeks of posts on this site as well. Although, at times, I approached the concepts a bit differently and added one or two of my own, the synchronicity is clearly there. I think you will enjoy the video very much.

Remember to start posting your images and reflections!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Characteristics of the Photographic Sage: part X - "With a Childs Eye"

"...innocence of eye has a quality of its own.  It means to see as a child sees, with freshness and acknowledgment of the wonder;  it also  means to see as an adult sees who has gone full circle and once again sees as a child - with freshness and an even deeper 
sense of wonder."
 Minor White

 The final characteristic of the Photographic Sage is the ability to see the world with the eye of a child.  I have mentioned before that Taoists are often perceived as having a child-like demeanor. I hope you have time to read "The Tao of Pooh"; you will understand what I mean.  They marvel at ordinary things the rest of the world over-looks.  They find every moment a miracle.  I think this is an excellent characteristic to end this series with as it also ties back very nicely to the other dimension of this blog...Contemplative Photography.

   Both the Taoist and the Contemplative Photographer are exploring souls.  It is this desire to delve deeply, to try and understand the world around them that make both extremely sensitive to the nuances of Nature, they absorb but don't judge. They  listen to the landscape and respect what they hear.  They relate to the world more through their hearts than their minds.  Children do that too.  They don't analyze what they experience, they are content with the experience itself.  They wander from moment to moment without a clear agenda and when something catches their attention they stop and explore it...and explore it in depth. A cursory look is not enough.  If you hand a small child a new toy one of the first thing they'll do with it is put it in their mouth! The Contemplative Photographer/Photographic Sage savors the world in much the same way...through all the senses.  They take joy in the experience for it's own sake and not with any hidden agenda.

   As I have progressed in my journey as a photographer I have always tried to keep to the joyous experience.  If photography gets to be "business" or I begin to take myself too seriously, I try to remember the words of the Taoist sage, Lao-tzu.   I think it is a good way to end this series.

My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you will fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.

 Tao Te Ching - 70

The Light from Within

    A Final Practice for the Week:

     In this final week I want you to find a place where you can wander, at your leisure. Although this may sound like last weeks practice, there is a subtle difference. If you can, turn off your adult, rationalizing brain. Try to experience the landscape as a child would.  Find a wonderfully interesting place...a park, a beach, a garden in Spring bloom, an ancient cemetery.  Go with no agenda, no expectations and no time limit. With your mind wide open to any possibility, set out to see the place with the eyes of a child...with freshness and wonder. Climb a tree, lay in the grass, play in a puddle. Don't look for the photographs, they will find you.

What caught your eye? What wonderful things did you discover? Were you compelled to try a new viewpoint?  Did  you slow your pace, wandering from place to place, and savor your time there?  Above all else, do you now look at the world with fresh, unprejudiced eyes?

   I sincerely hope you will always keep the wonder and joy alive in your work.  I also hope you will share some of your photographs on our Flickr site, along with your reflections. I look forward to hearing from my fellow Photographic Sages!




Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Characteristics of a Photographic Sage - part IX : Te

Know the light,
But keep to the shadow.
Become a pattern 
To all under heaven.
As a pattern repeats itself,
Act in constant Virtue;
Return to the beginning.
Tao te Ching - 28 

 The photographic sage exhibits the quality of Te which is generally translated as virtue or power.  By power, I am not talking about physical strength or domination but an internal power which comes about when we can perform our photographic work in a seamless flow of insight and execution. When we sense the Qi,or natural energy, of a place, Te can occur.   By virtue, I mean being true to who you are as a person and a photographer. Virtue is artistic honesty. Contemplative photographers are not concerned with the latest photographic trends, they make photographs that speak to them...not to the art market.

      Te is the characteristic most sought after by the Contemplative Photographer.  It is difficult state to achieve but when it is, when everything falls into place and you feel truly one with your camera, the sensation is quite exhilarating.  You feel, however briefly, the pure power of creative expression...when your personal intentions seem to align themselves with Natures energy. You achieve a level of mastery of the photographic medium that can be surprising.  What normally interferes or interrupts Te is our egos.  We begin to rationalize, to justify, to project, to doubt and, well, poof! disappears.

   For me, one of those "Te-moments" came when I was in Taos, New Mexico.  I came to photograph one of the supreme icons in the art world - St. Francis Church in Rancho de Taos.  Paul Strand had created several memorable photographs of it and Georgia O'Keeffe had painted it numerous times.  It was a little like a pilgrimage to a holy shrine.  How could I even attempt to represent this place?  What could I say that hadn't already been said by far greater artists than myself?  As the famous back view of the church loomed before me, the one EVERYONE photographs, I turned away from it and started to walk around the church.  Slowly, first one way, then another. During the walk I felt that energy start to flow and I made image after image. It reminded me of the time I was in St. Petersburg in Russia at Easter and I watched the priests and congregation slowly walk around and around the cathedral carrying their candles and chanting. I didn't understand why they did it; I do now.  It was a bit hypnotic. The dozen or so images I made on my circumnavigation of St. Francis Church were my own interpretation and none referred back to the classic images of Strand or O'Keeffe.  The more I walked, the more abstract my images became culminating in my favorite photograph below.

   I very much doubt I would have made that photograph if I'd not tapped into the Qi of that remarkable place. I'm not sure how it all came about but everything seemed to contribute to the feeling... the sun, the shadows cast by the church, the old dog that followed my footsteps, the sense of suspended time...perhaps all of it. I know I will never forget it.

   I will adapt a quote from photographer Wynn Bullock because it suits the context of this post.

"I didn't want to tell the church what it was.  I wanted the church to tell me something and through me express it's meaning..."
   For the Taoist, Te can be achieved when you allow the Tao to flow through you.  You don't fight it or force it.

  "True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can't be gained by interfering."
Tao te Ching - 48

   Now, if all this sounds a tad "new agey" and metaphysical, I assure you it really isn't.  People use more common phrases for the experience like "being in the zone". Everyone has experienced it at some point in their lives. Certain places enhance this experience...they are called "Thin Places".  There are famous ones all around the world but they can be as near as your own backyard. Taos is a "thin place". Artists have been attracted to it for decades. Your creativity reaches new levels in these places. Enjoy it when it happens...and I hope you have your camera with you when it does!

A  Little Practice for the Week:

   This is one characteristic that is nearly impossible to practice.  It happens when we least expect it and only when we put our egos and our skepticism away and let it happen.  I find that the best way to tap into the Te is to go to a beautiful place in nature...somewhere you've been many times and feel especially "in tuned" with.  Spend some time there...walk around just taking it all in...trying to see it with fresh eyes.  Sit for a time and see what suggests itself.  If everything is in sync you will know what to do.  The hardest thing is to quiet your mind and not to anticipate anything. You want to open all your senses...don't try to focus on only one thing. As I've said before, it is just a practice of letting go...letting the Tao and it's energy flow through you.  If you do, then you will know  what images to make and when. Simple.  Well, not really. It takes practice, and trust and patience but it will happen. Perhaps you will have to return again and again but at some point you will feel the pull of the Qi and then it IS simple!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Characteristics of a Photographic Sage-Part VIII: A Resourceful Spirit

Darkness within Darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
Tao te Ching - 1

   A Photographic Sage rises to the challenge of difficult situations.  They make the proverbial "lemonade from lifes lemons". In the typical Taoist paradoxical way of thinking, they can be said to take joy in adversity.  To accomplish this, a photographer must be resourceful.  They will actively seek out novel solutions.  They exploit adversity turning it into compelling images.

   I found myself in Galway, Ireland one morning caught up in the hustle and bustle of this modern city.  Truthfully, it is not an environment I feel most at home in.  The crowds and the noise were very distracting indeed.  At first, I could find nothing joyful in the experience so I sat down on a bench for a little "time out".  From that perspective, a couple of feet lower, I could observe the street scene very differently...almost the way a child must see it.  I started to think about how much more overwhelming it must be for a small child to walk these busy streets than it was for me. I decided to try to emulate that sensation.  When I stood up, I lengthened the neck strap of my camera so that it hung about hip level.  I continued down the street releasing the shutter randomly.  By the time I sat down again I'd made these two images among many others.  The little boy seems almost threatened by the looming black figure in the foreground and the little girl seems to be day dreaming that she was somewhere else while she waits for her mother to finish buying lunch.

   I too had been day dreaming of the green hills and open spaces I'd left behind that morning when I came to Galway.  Instead of embracing the moment, I was projecting myself into another.  This is never a good thing to do.  Luckily, I did find some joy in the chaos of the city experience that day, through the eyes of a child. I realized that every moment, even uncomfortable ones, has it's hidden treasures. Photographers are always experiencing difficult situations...very often it is the weather that challenges them.  The Photographic Sage welcomes the challenges of any difficulty they may encounter knowing that something wonderful may be in store for them. 

"Often while traveling with a camera,
we arrive just as the sun slips over the
horizon of the moment, too late to
to expose film, only time enough to
expose our hearts."
Minor White

A Little Practice for the Week:

   Try to put yourself into a place where you would never, under normal situations, go to photograph. It might be a city, a flea market, race track or even the town dump!  Your challenge is to find one compelling will undoubtedly find many, many more it you tap into the spirit of the place.  There are no unacceptable locations only uninspired photographers.

 What did you find compelling about this "uncomfortable" place?  What shouted out to you,"Photograph ME!" Taking a photograph is a response to that call.  Clicking the shutter says, "Yes, I hear you."