Zen and the Art of Photography
- TheDailyEnlightenment.comWeekly 05.08.05
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Realisation: Zen and the Art of Photography
Recently, I was putting up pictures at http://flickr.com/photos/moonpointer while reflecting on the spiritual side of photography (click blue to see photos)... To take a picture is to capture a moment in time without adding anything to it or taking anything away - what you see is what you get (unless you play camera tricks). The opposite of painting, which needs more conceptualised thought, photography seizes the moment. The "objective" lens faces everything "as it is", without discrimination. With a fresh "beginner's mind", photo-opportunity hunting helps us to see all things without bias, resetting our perception of what is beautiful or ugly. Even a previous eyesore can become intriguing! However, the seasoned shutterbug knows that beauty and ugliness are indeed empty concepts, only "real" in the eye of the beholder.
The most ordinary of everyday objects take on a new life in the light of mindfulness. The smallest object taken for granted becomes appreciated, from a roadside flower to the view outside the bus. We gradually realise that things are just as they are - not intrinsically special, even though we become emotional about them. Is it not often due to attachment that we take countless "been there, done that" photos of ourselves? Do you catch yourself wanting to grin against the backdrop of landmark sceneries? I used to think that tourists posing in pictures before majestic landscapes "mar" them. Why not remove the "ego" from the picture?Just some aversion on my part. I end up snapping many "impersonal" things. As I zoom in and out, looking through the viewfinder at various angles, I discover unseen micro and macro perspectives. When a photo displays an strange object, isn't it rather "enlightening" when we realise it's a supposedly familiar object? How much details of life do we lose to unmindfulness?
Photos are neutral inkblot tests - how you percieve them depends on your state of mind. A friend commented that my photos convey loneliness. Maybe she felt lonely? Maybe I snapped "my" loneliness? How we compose our pictures "frame" what we want to see. Our most treasured pictures reveal our (tunnel) vision of the world. A picture tells a thousand words - what you can't say you can be shown. The journeying is more important than reaching. Likewise, the photographing is always more important than the photo. What matters is the "sharpening of focus" in the process! Of course, there is also the occasional bonus lesson on hindsight when we see our pictures later.
What is the usual samsaric cycle most go through when we pick up our first camera? First, we crave for things to shoot, sometimes even shooting randomly. Next, we realise there's no point, and become more focused to take better pictures. Then we realise how time-consuming it is and decide to be really focused. Finally, we manage to take the dream picture or at least decide what it is like. It's like life in terms of goal-setting! Warning - will you be so attached to this dream image that it becomes the last thought tying you to Samsara on your deathbed? Where will this clinging lead you to? The wise relinquish all objects of attachment in good time. If you feel that you do not "need" to take any pictures for keepsakes, maybe you are doing rather well in the practice of letting go! If not, what and why are you shooting today - with your mind's eye? -Shen Shi'an
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