|Walking the Rice Fields - Chiba, Japan 2007|
When I was an art teacher I would tell my students who were learning to draw that the reason they were having difficulty was because they were merely looking at a thing - they were not truly seeing it. You look
with your eyes, you see
with your whole being.
Contemplative photography is all about seeing with your whole self - seeing beyond looking - soul seeing.
This is not an easy thing to do because our culture does not encourage this type of attention to the details of life. We are all familiar with media "sound bites" but we practice "sight bites" as well. Casual glances are not seeing but it is what most of us do everyday. We are always in such a hurry to get on to the next sight bite. Our collective attention span has shrunken considerably over the years.
In my post Paying Attention,
I spoke about the idea that nothing really exists unless we direct our undivided attention to it. To truly see something, with your whole being, is to believe in its existence and to celebrate it. Contemplative photography demands this sort of soul seeing. To practice this kind of deep regard for the landscape, try these simple steps the next time you are in a place you wish to photograph...put the camera down and really see, not merely look at, what is there in front of you.
1. What are some of the elements
in the landscape before you...which ones draw your attention? (The distinct and repeating textures in the fields...the terraced "steps")
2. What dynamic lines
do you see in the landscape? (The photograph above has softly curving and repeating lines)
3. Use a viewfinder to frame
different parts of the landscape...both horizontal and vertical. Which seems more fitting? (I used a horizontal format to accentuate the repeating elements I saw.)
4. What do your other (non-visual) senses
tell you about the place? (The smells, the warm sun, the still air, the feel on the grass and the buzz of bees all gave me a more intimate knowledge of the rice fields.)
5. Be patient
and let the story unfold before you. (I waited a half hour before the woman appeared. Had I run off earlier, I would have had a photograph that lacked this essential human element...very necessary because my sense of this landscape was that it was a place sculpted by the hand of man.)
Sometimes the landscape needs to be re-visited, over and over, to really know it. After all, if you met a person for 5 minutes, would you have any idea what that person was all about? Hardly. The same is true for the living landscape. When you really see what is in front of you, it is an acknowledgement of its presence...you believe in it, fully. Then and only then will you be able to receive the image you are meant to make.
"It's not what you look at that matters,
it's what you see."
-Henry David Thoreau