Mysticism ~ The attainment of insight in ultimate or hidden truths, and to human transformation supported by various practices and experiences.
In doing some research on contemplation and photography I came across the “mystical awareness” phrase. In learning more on about this I found myself being led down paths of philosophy, meditation, and religion.
Contemplation; The act of looking at something for a long time. A simple and straightforward definition according to one dictionary. Does anything describe what photography should be about more than contemplation? Yet, how many practice this approach before and after the shutter is clicked? My guess, not many. To provide yet further thought of contemplation, as noted from Wikipedia; “a piece of ground consecrated for the taking of auspices.” Auspices; “a divine or prophetic token.”
If in fact most who partake in photography do not practice or consciously recognize contemplation why is it then that photography has sky rocketed in popularity the past 10 years? Why are social media feeds filled non-stop with photographs? If most who fill these feeds with photographs do not practice contemplation or contemplative photography what then are they practicing? Or a possible better question, why do they chose to photograph anything at all?
It takes no great insight to see the true reasons are based primarily in motive. The purpose of photographs today when looked at slightly more thoroughly seems to be anything but contemplation but rather a way of gaining popularity. What is even more worrisome is that the popularity is not meant to be placed on the subject photographed or reflective insight but rather the person who took it. The person who captured the image first and foremost wants to be noticed. If I didn’t know better I would think photography in the historical sense is all but dead. Now it is simply a means to an end.
Over the last few years I have read many articles, listened and consumed countless hours of photography related podcast and videos that claim this is the greatest time in history to be a photographer. I won’t disagree with that sentiment. But to fully believe that to be the case one would need to stick their head in the sand, at least sometimes. It should also be noted along side this, the greatest time in history to be a photographer is not the same as saying this is the greatest time in history for photography.
More Is Better – No It Is Not
Lets face it, contemplation is time consuming. It takes work, a willingness to open ones mind, soul, and be willing to grow, change, and transform. In my personal opinion it takes a willingness to discover oneself. This is the last thing social media provides. Even in group settings you are distracted simply by the presence of others.
Would most be content with producing a dozen good photographs a year? Why not? With that in mind, would it be safe to say most self proclaimed photographers today are, in all honesty, not photographers at all, but rather individuals seeking popularity regardless of how popular their photographs are? Histrionic behavior comes to mind, but that may be taking it a little to far. Is narcissist going to far?
I can recognize not all photography or photographers require or even benefit from a contemplative or mindful approach to their work. The only genre of photography that seems to directly benefit is nature and wildlife. Personally I can include abstract art in this group as well. I find it interesting that when the natural world is focused upon the benefits to our lives seem to grow tremendously. There may be some aspects of contemplation in other genres such as portraiture, wedding, architecture and the like, but not nearly to the degree as nature, landscapes, and wildlife. I expect some may strongly disagree with that, but I don’t believe they could make a very strong case if they did.
Who’s To Blame
Could today’s professional photographers actually be contributing to the rise in this self centered approach that fills the data centers of Instagram and Facebook with more images than any other time in history? Even if the professional has a mindful approach to their own personal work? This requires an acceptance of the age old reverse psychology phenomenon. I’m not going to take that too much further since I believe it is a stretch but, I will say the more something is talked about the more people take notice. Like it or not, there are those who will do things simply because someone else says they shouldn’t. Or not do things simply because others say they should.
Don’t get me wrong, ignoring problems do not solve them. They do need to be addressed, with that I have no doubt. Education is the first step, but education alone is not “the” solution.
More Contemplation, Less Competition
Photography is abound with workshops, tours, classroom discussions, and the never ending search for the spectacular (for what that’s worth) photograph. Online forums, entire YouTube channels, and blogs of camera and technique mastery run rampant. I believe there is even a “Photographer Of The Year” award. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around that. I always wonder, according to who? There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but the world of photography is literally filled with these “feel good” things.
Not all the apples in the barrel are bad. There are a select few who actually practice what they preach. Teaching is a noble and honorable pursuit. The World can never have enough great teachers. Or can it? An old phrase comes to mind when I mention teaching. It states: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach”. In my opinion we need far more doers and far fewer teachers. That being said, there are many ways to teach. One does not need a classroom or workshop to teach or to learn. One only needs to provide and then follow honorable examples.
There is a competitive nature to society. One that has brought about tremendous discoveries. The medical profession comes to mind immediately when considering the advancements of mankind. It does not stop there. Competition has brought the world to our doorstep and directly into our everyday lives.
“Education in the West has been very focused on preparing people to be workers,” said Daniel Goleman, PhD, a behavioral psychologist who popularized the notion of emotional intelligence. “But that leaves lacking the qualities that make someone a good world citizen.”
A Profound Thinking About Something
What is it that a person should be thinking about “profoundly” when involved in nature photography? The answer should be obvious. Sadly, it seems to not be nature. Many if not most who practice nature photography will be the first to confess a love of nature. This “love” mindset seems to diminish when a camera is placed in their hands. They seem to transform in to a photographer much more than a lover. Could it be the competitive subconscious takes over and they become filled with thoughts of competing against the plethora of photographs they see each day? Is it really the photography they love, or the possibility of attention.
Today’s society is a jungle of attention distracting flash bombs. It is not easy to pay attention to something for long. There is always something else going on around you. If you are a person with a camera attempting to pay attention to everything all the time in hopes of capturing that “great” photograph you are in fact working against yourself and in many ways preventing yourself from capturing a great thought, idea, or experience. Great personally inspiring photographs are not made, created, or captured. They exists in every corner of the World. You simply need to discover them by first discovering yourself. The more you are distracted, the more input you crowd into your thoughts and the less profound thinking you do the more likely you will never know how, when, or why, to discover them.
We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about. -Joseph Campbell