Is it time to put more meaning into your imagery and move past pretty pictures? Are you finding technically competent photographs often have nothing to say? Would you like to add a spiritual dimension to your photography? Have you have heard the term “Zen” thrown around with regard to art and photography but are not sure what it really means?

Zen is one of the most overused and least understood concepts, applied indiscriminately to almost everything in recent years. It is generally used as a replacement for ‘peaceful’ or ‘serene’ but really it means so much more than that. Although a sect of Buddhism, Zen is both religion and philosophy. There is much emphasis placed on fully experiencing the present moment. This is facilitated by practicing ‘zazen,’ which is sitting meditation and simply translates to ‘facing the wall’ while concentrating on your breath. So how does all of this relate to photography?

Bringing heightened awareness of the present moment to our photography, while tuning in visually and tuning out extraneous internal chatter or noise, can often help make simpler, more succinct and emotionally powerful photos. We are using our camera as a tool of connection rather than of separation. Continuing that experience of heightened awareness and connectedness to and in the present moment helps make photos at a deeper, more authentic level.

Be the camera. Be the film. Be the pixels. Be the subject. Be the print. We are bringing together the past (camera, lens and location choices) together with the future (visualizing the final print or image on the computer screen) with choices made in the present moment (shutter, aperture, lens focal length, perspective, composition, moment of shutter release). Even pre-visualization is practiced in the present moment. With this awareness of the effect of our choices, we learn how the camera ‘sees’ in order to better help your camera see like you do, more effectively expressing how you want your photos to look and feel.

By not being overly attached to results and by being ready to embrace what is given or already there, we expand our notion of what is appropriate subject matter for ourselves. It is less about what we photograph and more about how we photograph. It is about how we live and making conscious choices. There is acknowledgement and connection to materials (camera, film or memory card…) yet we are not bound by them. They are merely the tools we use to express ourselves, as a hammer and chisel are to the sculptor or paint and canvas to the painter. And yet in the Zen tradition, embracing paradox and inconsistency, we are our tools and our tools are us– no separation. We are also one with our subject as our subject is one with us– again, no separation. We are using our awareness and our camera to dissolve the illusion of separation between self and subject. Our spirit merges with the spirit of our subject to become one at the moment of exposure. This is the melding of our spiritual practice with our photography practice. This is Zen in the art of photography.

“We have allowed the picture and the picturetaker and the picturetaking to become one. Inseparable in a moment of no time. And then we forget.” Robert Leverant

And then remember and begin again. -Doug


©Douglas Beasley 2012
Reprinted from the Santa Fe Workshops blog