A return to why
To learn more from Shari, be sure to sign up for the second annual Out of Chicago Winter Conference! Learn more and register at outofchicago.com/winter
I sense a movement afoot — a subtle restlessness from a quiet portion of the photographic community. We’ve been there a while — we just haven’t always known how to make our way into the conversation. I sense a growing yearning for a different conversation — for new ways to talk about photography. A yearning for permission to leave behind, at least for a bit, the technical terminology of megapixels, focal length or crop sensors. To leave behind discussions about the “how” of photography in order to embrace the “why.” A yearning to liberate ourselves from gear talk and the photographic rules of composition to enter into a realm where meaning, metaphor and voice are of significant importance. Where meditation, authentic expression and being in the present moment of our creativity is encouraged. Where seeing, breathing and being in the now are the means AND the end.
In this new conversation, the word “process” refers not to the how-to and step-by-step quantifiable realm of settings, photographic rules or editing but instead to the state of being and state of mind, the intention and attention that we experience when we are out with our cameras. This “process” sees photography as a contemplative practice which invites us into greater awareness of our surroundings — and ourselves. It is an act of generosity as we give ourselves permission to be swept away in the moment. This “process” sees the camera as a companion, a witness, a vessel through which our innermost voice is expressed. This “process” does not seek perfection of imagery but thrives by simply experiencing each moment.
A friend who is a visual artist once said, “If you hold the image of a final product in mind while you are creating or making art, it cannot help but affect the process.” These words continue to stick with me. How many of us have been there? How many of us have gone out with our camera seeking THE shot? We have finally made time to spend with our cameras, and yet when we are in that moment, our minds are solely focused on creating THE shot. You know the one — THE shot that is stunning, THE shot which is perfectly composed, THE shot that you have perfectly processed and that receives hundreds of accolades on social media. But then?
Nothing works. We can’t find anything to photograph. We don’t feel inspired. We came at the wrong time. It must be the light. Or the area. We concern ourselves too much with the rule of thirds or whether the aperture setting is right. Some of us spend more time looking at our histogram than we do on the world around us. We chimp on the images we do take, and our response is an underwhelming “Meh.” As our mind works even harder to get THE shot, we begin to feel desperate — and the more desperate we become, the more the Muse evades us.
I know this scenario all too well. On my better days, when the frustration sets in, I remember my friend’s words, “If you hold the image of a final product in mind while you are creating or making art, it cannot help but affect the process.” I then put my camera in my bag and offer myself the following plea:
Let go of the need for THE SHOT.
Let go of the idea of the final product.
Return to your breath, return to this moment.
Breathe in deeply, and exhale slowly.
Stay with your breath for a few minutes and simply take in your surroundings.
See more in this moment than you saw in the moment before.
Hold your gaze a bit longer.
Look more deeply, more closely.
Take another slow breath in, and exhale.
Breathe in and relax.
Exhale, let go, and simply BE in this moment.
Ahhh. It seems so simple, yet it often works like magic. So for those of you out there whose eyes glaze over when the tech and gear talk begin, consider this your invitation. Let go of the worries of settings and right composition. Let go of the thoughts of a need for newer, “better” gear. Let go of the concerns on whether people will “like” the image. Let go of the need for THE SHOT. Take a deep breath. And then another. Gently take your camera out again — and with a new intention and a different attention, let your thoughts shift from the how to the why. Create the image for YOU.
And when the desire for THE SHOT emerges again (as it will)? Simply remember to breathe.