thoughts on “The Practice of Contemplative Photography”

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A few weeks ago, Genju, from 108zenbooks, graciously mentioned my name to Carlos Inada, at dharma|arte, who invited me to review the upcoming book, The Practice of Contemplative Photography.

This is my first book review, so any comments/criticism/advice would be appreciated!

And, here is Genju’s wonderful review.

In The Practice of Contemplative Photography, published by Shambhala Publications, Andy Karr and Michael Wood have taken the body of Buddhist practice  and managed to fix a lens to it.

In Buddhism, we learn to see the world as it truly is, and in The Practice of Contemplative Photography, we learn to capture that image and share it with others, exactly as it was perceived. The book is much like an introduction to meditation, except that instead of learning things like correct posture of the spine, we study posturing the camera in such a way to capture what we see, with “nothing added, nothing taken away.” To do this, the authors take us step by step, relaxing our thinking, cutting off expectation and prejudice, and remind us to look at what’s right here with us, not to go searching beyond. The same way meditation teaches us to pay greater attention to the 90% of life we usually ignore, instead of chasing pleasure or averting discomfort, Karr and Wood open our eyes to the intrigue we usually fail to notice in the 90% of our daily world we pass over as mundane. We’re encouraged to look at it again, with fresh sight. Subjects such as door frames, stair cases, sunlight shining through the window shades. It reminds me that I don’t have to travel to exotic places to find an intriguing image. There is a wealth of imagery in front of me, on the sidewalk in front of my house, or in the space between right here, the horizon, and beyond.

Throughout the book, anyone who has knowledge of Buddhist practice will immediately notice the parallels. It’s not a surprise that in the last chapter we learn that their method of contemplative photography was inspired by the “fresh, awake, and unpredictable nature” of the photographs of Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk, whose work was free of any rules or photographic traditions. The dedication to both Buddhist and photographic practice by Karr and Wood is apparent in their finely tuned theory, method, and instruction.

Although an understanding of Buddhism and meditation will help you catch many of the technics discussed in the book, it certainly isn’t necessary. This is a book of photography. Being an amateur photographer for over ten years now, this book helped me immensely in realizing what went right in the photos I like and what my mistakes were in the photos I just wasn’t quite satisfied with. It helped me admit when I pushed things a little (or a lot!) too far in Photoshop, away from how it was, away from honesty. Its helpful assignments give a way of training to know exactly what to do right the next time I’m out with my camera. It emphasizes the importance of maintaining what was seen, as it was seen.  And, of course, the teachings and methods are exemplified with beautiful images taken by the authors, their friends, and their inspirations.

One response »

  1. Awesome review, Joseph! You’re such a fantastic photographer that it would be interesting to see how your photography shifts after working with the exercises

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