The Practice of Contemplative Photography
(Andy Karr and Michael Wood; Shambhala, Boston & London, 2011).
Reviewed by Zoe White
Photography, for me, is as much about the observance of the mind as it is about capturing things which are perceived to be “out there”. So I am naturally drawn to any books which go into what's happening behind the eyes. This is one such book.
The Practice of Contemplative Photography highlights the way in which the mind's chatter and judgements can stifle creativity and remove us from the immediacy, depth and clarity of perceptual experience. It encourages readers to look beyond ideas about what is “good” subject matter and trust, instead, what emerges from direct perceiving. This, more easeful, open approach to image making is, according to the authors, where the potential for real artistry and joy is to be found.
While the book does include some general information on composition, exposure and lenses etc., these technical aspects are subordinated to the contemplative “practice” which is grounded in Buddhist teachings on perception, creativity and wisdom and emphasizes the experience of clear seeing and our inherent creativity, which is, according to the authors, the source of fresh, uncontrived images.
The authors' insist that they are not primarily training photographers but offering a method for developing visual awareness. There are exercises on such subjects as colour; texture; space and simplicity. Additional themes treated include: solitude; discernment; the flash of perception; aimless wandering and emotional swings. The book also includes many beautiful, elegant images.
It could be argued that since the publication of this book in 2011, contemplative photography has become another 'genre' of photography, perhaps illustrating how much of a need there was for this fresh approach to photography. For those wanting to explore the use of photography as a meditation practice, or wanting to bring a more contemplative, less obsessive quality to their photography this book offers insight as well as encouragement.
For me, the value of the book is that it places photography in the wider context of the art of seeing. If it is read with the same lightness of touch as the authors recommend we bring to the process of image-making, then it may contribute to the creation of a new photography culture; one less technique-driven, more trust-based and ultimately more joyful, which, alone, would be a significant, refreshing, and welcome contribution.
(All images on this page from The Practice of Contemplative Photography Andy Karr and Michael Wood; Shambhala, Boston & London, 2011).