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Alternative Process: Zen Photography / Minor White

Lee Tracy

New member
I am currently reading "The Zen of Creativity - Cultivating Your Artistic Life" by John Daido Loori and have just come across this quote:

"Spirit always stands still long enough
for the photographer It has chosen."
- MINOR WHITE

Earlier in the book the author attended a workshop given by White and quotes him:

"Venture into the landscape without expectations. Let your subject find you.When you approach it, you will feel resonance, a sense of recognition. If, when you move away, the resonance fades, or if it gets stronger as you approach, you’ll know you have found your subject. Sit with your subject and wait for your presence to be acknowledged. Don’t try to make a photograph, but let your intuition indicate the right moment to release the shutter. If, after you’ve made an exposure, you feel a sense of completion, bow and let go of the subject and your connection to it. Otherwise, continue photographing until you feel the process is complete.
The state of mind of the photographer while
creating is a blank.....[but] It is a very active state
of mind really, a very receptive state of mind, ready
at an instant to grasp an image, yet with no image
pre-formed in it at any time."
- MINOR WHITE

Does this process resonate with anyone?
 

Michaela Taylor

New member
The Is-ness of things.... :)

The state of mind of the photographer while
creating is a blank.....[but] It is a very active state
of mind really, a very receptive state of mind, ready
at an instant to grasp an image, yet with no image
pre-formed in it at any time."
I find my mind is like this when I paint. I am not actually thinking or really concentrating on what I am doing but rather on a active nothingness. Same with photography I see I focus and I snap not much thinking happens but at the same time I am thinking about the framing, lighting, and what setting are best for the subgect and light.
 
The state of mind of the photographer while
creating is a blank.....[but] It is a very active state
of mind really, a very receptive state of mind, ready
at an instant to grasp an image, yet with no image
pre-formed in it at any time."
I do the opposite of this. There is a constant search for subject matter that will supply the ingredients I need to achieve visual expression of the ideas, themes, and concepts I want to communicate. This is not a"receptive" approach but rather a "projective" one. It's like shining a mental template through my eyes onto potential subject matter. If the fit is good I photograph.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I do the opposite of this. There is a constant search for subject matter that will supply the ingredients I need to achieve visual expression of the ideas, themes, and concepts I want to communicate. This is not a"receptive" approach but rather a "projective" one. It's like shining a mental template through my eyes onto potential subject matter. If the fit is good I photograph.
But Maris, isn't it iterative? As you approach what you are trying to align with your intent, doesn't the form itself ever seem to speak back?

To me it does, instructing me as to the angle and form and what to ask of it. But then, (I admit), the voices are coming from within my own mind, as voices for and against everything I try to change.

Asher
 

Lee Tracy

New member
I think it depends on what you are doing. I don't go out with a set goal in mind. I think that if I did my approach would be very different. I set out in a receptive frame of mind, waiting for opportunities to present themselves. So in a way I already do this, which is I think why it appeals to me. I also believe the camera captures more than just the object - it also captures some - for want of a better word - spirit of the object as well. And we as artists also imbue something of ourselves in our work as well. This is more easily felt and observed in art that the artists has made with their hands so this may answer a question I didn't know I was asking - how do I, as a photographer, imbue a sense of my emotion into my photograph. The idea of projecting myself through the lens onto the subject interests me - does it work? Or not? I can only try and see if doing so (given that I may not be doing it 'right' or doing anything at all) changes my photos, or changes reactions to my photos. Fundamentally - does it make my photos better?

So far, based solely on my own observations, I think it has. If only because it has slowed me down and I'm more thoughtful of what I am taking and I take much longer to frame and compose which can only be a good thing. Not that I was happy snappy before - but I have just come out of a long phase of being frustrated with my camera and frustrated with my photography. So this coincides with getting a new camera, with a new lens which is definitely also part of my perceived improvement. I'm finding it vastly helpful in getting my photographic mojo back. So if that is all it achieves I'm still happy.
 

Michaela Taylor

New member
I find I like going out with not subject in mind, just open to what might be around me and then letting my eye just 'see' the photos that are around me. And yes some things just jump out at me and I have to stop and take a photo of them.
 
But Maris, isn't it iterative? As you approach what you are trying to align with your intent, doesn't the form itself ever seem to speak back?... Asher
Certainly the forms speak and their language is, I suppose, one of visual metaphor. But after nearly fifty years of intense looking there are no real surprises.

Suppose, for example, I want to make a photograph incorporating the themes of time, movement, change, and permanence. I'll go to a mountain stream featuring a deciduous tree surmounting rocks enclosing a waterfall. An extended shutter speed will reveal the movement of water, the tree bears witness to seasonal change, and the rocks stand for permanence into deep time. The task is not figuring out what the ambient scene "says". The challenge is finding the scene that says what I need it to say. And, frustratingly, a lot of themes languish unexpressed because the subject matter simply does not deliver. Bad camera work can be improved but overcoming "subject failure" is a lot harder.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Certainly the forms speak and their language is, I suppose, one of visual metaphor. But after nearly fifty years of intense looking there are no real surprises.

Suppose, for example, I want to make a photograph incorporating the themes of time, movement, change, and permanence. I'll go to a mountain stream featuring a deciduous tree surmounting rocks enclosing a waterfall. An extended shutter speed will reveal the movement of water, the tree bears witness to seasonal change, and the rocks stand for permanence into deep time. The task is not figuring out what the ambient scene "says". The challenge is finding the scene that says what I need it to say. And, frustratingly, a lot of themes languish unexpressed because the subject matter simply does not


A brilliant introduction to "Subject Failure in Landscape Metaphorical Photography", a great tile for a Ph.D. thesis, but in which School at the University?

Asher
 
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