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Creativity in Photography Ink and Pen Nature Natural Health Haiku Haiga and the Silence of just Being
Finally …. a briefly creative day again
…hmmm …. coming to think of it, that’s not really correct to say, is it, for someone who professes to live a creative life?!
And, here is the lesson I am reminded of, once again, in retrospect: during those last weeks I have indeed been creative, possibly more so than if I had been roaming with camera in hand. Simply by having the thoughts of doing things, making things, creating images, intrude every time I noticed something of creative potential, yet unable to pursue, my mind also remained free of being led onto any specific path of actual creation. I notice that ideas can flow with less intellectually imposed guidance, the imagination of creative exploration can soar more freely without the restraints inherent in the actual materials we normally use in our work.
So, I will not fret again ( … yeah…right ! Ha ! ) when schedule and circumstances seemingly limit creative expression, but use the opportunity for mental exploration without the constraints and limiting physicality of tools and materials.
happily keep exploring
the Way of the Brush
The beginnings of Chinese – Japanese Brush-writing are thought to date back approximately 4500 years into ancient China. Chinese Characters, called Kanji in Japan, are considered the earliest development of a written language.
Simple lines and combinations of lines, such as seen in the ‘Trigrams’ of the I-Ching, were the early written representations of things and abstract concepts.
Understandably, it was foremost the immediate environment and concerns of daily life that were depicted in symbolized form and shape.
were used, and from there the characters representing all aspects of life took various forms and shapes.
In ancient times, the characters were originally inscribed onto tortoise shell, stone, and bamboo, then also on metal-ware. Later, when the use of the brush was increasingly refined, and silk and natural-fibre papers (the term ‘rice’-paper is somewhat misleading, as rarely rice is used to make paper) were invented, calligraphers were able to develop numerous styles of writing the characters. Silk is thought to have been used as a writing and painting surface as early as 400 BC, paper was invented in China around the first century AD.
Through historical, cultural, and political developments, the forms, shapes, and meanings of Kanji changed and evolved into a rich language that is both a means of communication as well as, in its written form, a highly developed and regarded skill and expressive art form in Asian countries.
Oriental Calligraphy, and Oriental ink-brush painting, sumi-e, one may look not only towards its purely aesthetic impression, such as visual balance, harmony between the black and white of the space, or the form and shape of the strokes. Also, look towards its philosophical background, which is reflected in the technique and practice of writing, in its expressions, as well as in the meanings and the messages of the characters that have been passed on for several thousands of years, and many of which contain in their forms the essence of Oriental thought.
Thus, famous painters and calligraphers of China have taught brush work as an expression of the basic philosophical views of the East, Yin and Yang, the Tao, Confucius’ teachings, Lao-Tse, Mencius.
On instructing the student painter and calligrapher the Old Ones would have taught (allow me to paraphrase): ‘ … when viewing a perfect painting, I see it is the Tao, not only a picture, this painter has left behind all cunning skill. … See things in your spirit, not in your eye; do not take outward beauty for reality. One’s brush strokes in writing should have strength, directness, and truth, yet be round and gentle, just as your dealings with other people ought be as virtuous. Of the six essentials to painting and calligraphy, such as brush, ink, motive, etc, the first essential is ‘spirit’. … ’ and so on, you probably get the idea.
As in Western written languages, the formation of Chinese Characters is based on certain structures and rules. Although various script styles of oriental calligraphic writing have evolved throughout its 4500-year history, those specific rules and principles in writing must be followed in order to create characters of both aesthetic as well as meaningful value. Personal styles of handwriting are nevertheless of innumerable variation, and may often even be beyond legibility, sometimes deliberately so, yet, still provide the essence of the art form to a high degree. A well-written Brush Calligraphy ought instill in the viewer something beyond its external form.
isshin - tandoshoshin one heart/mind - practice the way with unceasing effort
Bokuseki - ink traces
“ The trace of the ink is not merely beautiful script. It is something that emerges from the fundamental source of being. When you trace the script of a Character you must be of that original essence.”
The practice of Zen encompasses more than sitting ‘meditation’ and study of the old texts. Zen, to become real, is to be practiced in and throughout all aspects of life. Extending the practice into work, community, service, physical and mental aspects of daily life, etc, are simple matter of fact. As such, the Zen Arts have, early on in history, become part of regular practice, as well. Chado – Tea Ceremony, Kyudo – Japanese Zen-Archery, Ikebana – Flower Arrangement, and many more.
Bokuseki – Ink Traces, is the use of brush and ink as a means of spontaneous, intention-less expression of the mind. Awareness of the present moment flows through mind and body, brush and ink, onto the delicate and fragile recording surface of natural paper.
With each brush stroke, moment by moment, without corrections being attempted after the fact, the mind teaches the mind.
Zengo are ‘Zen-Words’; usually short records of notes from the traditional teachings of now 2500 years of history. Often seemingly paradox to a superficial reading they serve as containers that can urge the mind of those who seek to understand to go beyond the purely intellectual meaning of the words.
Simple ink written with a simple brush onto simple paper - vast sources of insight.
If you are interested in seeing your world clearly, the book provides an approach that is easily and effectively applied without having special prior training in either photography or contemplative practice.
Buddhist teachings may seem like a far-fetched approach to apply to photography, yet, Andy Karr and Michael Wood are able to make us realize how our mind both shapes and controls much of our awareness, understanding, and choices, but then just as well can also confuse those very same awareness and choices in many situations in our lives.
Whilst the Buddhist Way is a tool that enables us to explore a richer and more whole way of living in general, in the context of this book, the authors also draw on the long history and tradition of arts in the Buddhist teaching repertoire, and here we are shown a new and more liberated approach to image making.
In the end, we come away with a deeper understanding of our own photographic process, better pictures no matter the photographic domain of choice, and greater insight into the workings of our mind. The effects of contemplative photography will, no doubt, gratefully carry over into the remainder of our daily lives as well, and benefit not only ourselves, but also all and everyone else we come into contact with.
For those of us who have already had experience with some kind of contemplative practice but have slacked in consistency, reading this book may very well be the trigger to bring us back onto the path. For those of us who are new to and just exploring a life of mindfulness, it can solidify a practice and lead us into a greater life of insight and awareness.
GENTLY, WE ARE guided towards creating images devoid of showing what we imagined to see, expected to see, and without concern for technical skills and tricks. Not letting our seeing be influenced by the anticipation of an audience, judgment, or sales potential, we learn to let the image appear and be created without intellectual interference.
It is an automatic process of our mind, in the moment of perception, to place a label onto that perception. This instantaneously inhibits the continuity of pure perception of the world as it is in this moment. Furthermore, we see a sunset and immediately the photographic mind imagines some previously categorized labels, such as glowing-warm-orange, dramatic and sweeping wide-angle view, romantic. Thus, we end up re-creating some pre-existing label.
However, this book is about more than image making. Andy Karr and Michael Wood not only teach us photography without teaching camera work, they also teach us the Good Life without preaching right or wrong. Everyday is a good day, if we only allow ourselves to see mindfully.
PRACTICE assignments for going out with camera in hand are provided in a sequential manner as travel, work, and move through the book. Specifically, these assignments guide our mind to connect directly with the visual world. The flash of perception becomes our glimpse of living life in the present moment. Colour, light, texture, shape, line, pattern, are what our visual world is, nothing more, and are the building blocks of contemplative photography.
Seeing mindfully can become an integral way of how we live our daily lives, and living our lives artistically will increase our appreciation of the world as it is. We are promised that, if we find the discipline to engage the practice of contemplative photography, though sometimes frustrating, the rewards and pleasing results will keep us going. Being unplugged from the external world of constant stimulus, we may actually find the opportunity to make friends with ourselves. “Solitude is the home of contemplative mind and the space where creativity flourishes.” Solitude can be found in any place if we have the state of mind for it. Exotic places, grandiose Nature scenes, “beauty”, and “photogenic” motives are concepts to free ourselves from in order to see the world as it is, and are not required to practice contemplative photography.
TECHNICAL skills are not the focus of this book; yet, the authors manage elegantly to include concise and easily understandable guidance for the camera novice. Shutter speed, aperture, focal length and distance, focus and depth of focus, automatic and manual settings are all covered with due measure and, in the spirit of contemplative photography, with appropriate simplicity. Basic camera technique, and skills of working with the camera are included. It is, though, kept to a bare minimum of description, and will neither overwhelm nor waste valuable pages of the book’s focus on the contemplative practice of the art.
In the appendix topics such as camera choice, post processing in the digital area, and post-“processing” the images mentally and emotionally are touched upon; all in keeping with the aim of creating a clear image of the original fresh perception.
PLENTY OF IMAGES by Miksang photographers accompany the text to give us visual examples for studying what contemplative photography looks like in actual picture form.
This practice, in its entirety, is very much about sensitizing our whole being to be more perceptive to life as it happens moment to moment. We become more in touch with the joy of seeing as one of life’s grand treasures.
For all of us, reading, and putting it into practice, can be an inspiration to today go out and see not only the world as we never saw it, but also finding ourselves in the process.
“ We study and educate ourselves not only for our own good, but for the benefit of all”
This is one of my favourite quotes; James Robertson Marshall, one of my early Natural Health teachers was a kind and gentle soul always concerned about making sure everyone, not only his students, would get the most from his experiences and teachings to take along onto their own path.
As we always grow on the visions, experiences, and achievements of others who have gone before us and have shared their learning in some way or other, here is a short list ( to not keep you clicking away for too long) of links to some of the resources that I have found inspiring and useful for my own creative path; more to be added over time.
http://www.lenswork.com/ Brooks Jensen publishes one of the best photography magazines, podcasts, articles, interviews; all fabulous insights and inspirations on the creative process
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/index.shtml Michael Reichmann’s is one of the largest photography sites; tutorials, product reviews, creativity, arts, and more
http://kelbytraining.com/ Scott Kelby’s all things about Photoshop and Lightroom; tutorials in form of articles and videos
http://strobist.blogspot.com/ articles, examples, videos and tutorials on lighting and photographic tools and technique
psychologyforphotographers.com very interesting short articles by Jenika on why and how people do what they do both as artists as well as clients and buyers
http://www.terryanncarter.ca/ former president of Haiku Canada, well known poet, teacher, and activist
http://tobaccoroadpoet.blogspot.com/ Curtis Dunlap’s site with plenty of literature and poetry
Looking at other photographer’s images is always a source of inspiration, of course. It provides direct examples and ideas that may be translated into our own process and projects. When we, however, move to other, seemingly unrelated, art forms for inspiration we can expand not only our repertoire of actual imagery but we expand our own vision, imagination, and potential right from within. While reading haiku, if I may use this as an example of my own experience, I cannot but notice the mind wandering and imagining scenes and contexts and ideas emerging for possible future images and projects to create. Not other haiku, but photographs. This is a process that not only adopts from the external stimulus, but involves one’s own mind to move creatively whilst actively (or is it passively?) engaged in another experience; a transfer or translation of sorts is required from taking in one art experience into creating another. And so our all-shared creative process keeps on expanding and growing ceaselessly and almost inevitably simply through enjoying the endless stream of creativity around us.
and while I am at it, a few photography related quotes
This benefit of seeing… can come only if you pause a while, extricate yourself from the maddening mob of quick impressions ceaselessly battering our lives, and look thoughtfully at a quiet image… the viewer must be willing to pause, to look again, to meditate. Dorothea Lange
When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence. Ansel Adams
Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk. Edward Weston
In photography, the biggest difference between an amateur and a professional is… the size of the wastebasket. David Timms
follow up on previous post from 30 Nov 2011
In the beginning, the less images we have made, and the less images we have edited, developed, processed, the easier it is to not pre-visualize and anticipate an intentional outcome, as we do not really have much imagery experience for the mind to draw upon. Eventually, however, with more and more images in our repertoire of practice and experience, it will also become easier to be aware of the process that goes on in the mind as we walk with camera in hand.
We can practice both; we can know when one or the other is appropriate, and we can also become aware to notice when our mind drifts into one or the other at times when it may be inappropriate.
When we pay attention to what we are thinking, what we are looking at in the view finder, why we make selections of framing, focus, composition, etc., our images become more and more a reflection not only of the world, but also of ourselves.
wishing all good health, joyful thoughts, and plenty of fine pics for the New Year
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© peter v quenter - brushing with light and ink