Contemplative photography: a book review


The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes, by Andy Karr and Michael Wood. Shambhala Publications, 2011.

This book has changed my life! Contemplative photography is a synthesis of meditation and photography. The aim is to learn to see the world with fresh eyes and then express what you see. The idea is to express things just as they are - genuinely, simply, without artificial contrivance and without interpretation. To achieve this you try not to think while you're actually taking the photo. 'Thinking should be done beforehand or afterwards - never while actually taking a photograph.' (Henri Cartier Bresson)



Instead of thinking, you learn to tune in to an intelligence that is separate from our thinking mind and our emotions.  This state of mind is sometimes referred to as 'the zone', or mindfulness. When we take photos in this state of mind, they are fresh, creative and accurately reflect the reality of the world.

And at times it's worked for me. Whenever or wherever I am - day or night, indoors, outdoors, in a garden or in a shopping centre - I sometimes manage to see clearly. And then I see colours, textures and light that are beautiful and fascinating. The photos I've taken in this state of mind seem much better than others that have been planned and thought about.

The book contains practice exercises. The writers advise learners initially not to use locations like parks, gardens or natural settings. The reason for this is because we have so many preconceptions about the beauty of these settings, that it's difficult to see simple forms without the barrier of thinking about their meaning, value or use.

The photos in this post are practice ones I've taken. They're not of the garden at all. And the book is about photography, not gardening. In spite of this, I'm hoping that this book review will still be seen as relevant for the Garden Book Reviews meme hosted by Holley in her blog, Roses and Other Gardening Joys. (Thanks for hosting, Holley). Because reading, re-reading and savouring this book can  lead to more interesting and inspired garden photos.









Comments

  1. Oh, yes, gardening and photographing go hand in hand. And I can certainly use a bit more knowledge in photography! Thanks so much for the review of this book. Looking at our gardens with fresh eyes - through the lens of a camera - is sometimes harder than one thinks at first. Practice exercises seem like a good way to improve. PS: I love the picture of the green glass.

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    1. thanks Holley, I'm so pleased you like that photo, it's one of my favourites. It' s actually not green glass, it's clear water glass, showing the Banksia rose bushes on the fence behind it.

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  2. Sounds like a good book! Taking photos is difficult!

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    1. hi Satu, I guess like anything you can make it easy or difficult. I used to be happy with auto now I'm seeing all these new possibilities, it's very exciting. (I hardly have time for weeding!)

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  3. Dear Catmint,
    This sounds like a good book to own (and I am going to see if I can own a copy too!).
    I love photography and in particular taking photographs of the small (or not so small) details rather than the whole (although I take those as well).
    If only I had my own garden in which to practice the art, however that time will come soon enough.
    Kirk
    PS
    I am with Holleygarden, I really like that photograph of the green glass.

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    1. Update:
      I have just put that book on my Amazon wishlist. Here's hoping that AGA gets the hint and buys it for me.
      Kirk

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    2. hi kirk, hope AGA gets the hint, sure he will if you hint hard enough ... it must be hard not have your own garden, but I imagine there are compensations, like having time to explore other spaces.

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  4. This sounds like a must have book. It is always nice to be able to see things with fresh new eyes. Like you I think it is also relevant for gardeners.

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    1. thanks Denise, I'm pleased (and relieved) you think it's relevant for gardeners.

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  5. Hi Catmint, Gardening and Photography do go hand in hand. Such an enlightening book to have, I especially like the first photo you took.

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    1. Hi Karen, I love that first photo too. You can just make out that the shadow at the bottom is my shape taking the photo. I love that little quirky detail. Light is so fascinating and amazing and wonderful.

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  6. I am pretty sure I would enjoy this book. I too love to take images simple forms, textures and the light washing an object. I am currently reading Captured, by Moose Peterson. He is a premier wildlife photographer.

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    1. That Peterson book sounds fascinating - are you going to post a review of it when you've finished? I think you might enjoy this book Donna. You already take fantastic photos, but this book's describing a different approach to seeing the world.

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  7. I think this book is perfect for anyone wanting to learn more about the beauty around them and then photograph it...I will add it to my list and it is relevant to the garden book review.

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    1. dear donna, what's fascinating about this book is that you realize that there is beauty everywhere, not only in gardens or in nature, but in unexpected places.

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  8. This sounds like an interesting approach, and though it is not a gardening book, I think it would be very helpful to gardeners who want to take better pictures. I like the red and blue abstract shot that you took especially.

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    1. thanks Jennifer, I took that photo as I was sitting in a doctor's office. It was a coloured glass cube and you can just see the bamboo in the garden through the blue glass.

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  9. I'm pretty sure I would really enjoy this book. Whenever I've approached photography this way, the photos come out much better. If I, instead, see something beautiful and try to capture it, I'm often disappointed by the results. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  10. I think anything that gets us to open our eyes is to be praised. About 40 yrs ago I started painting, landscapes, seascapes and wildlife and what a difference it made to walks in the countryside, this has all now followed through into my photos, or I hope it has!

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    1. hi pauline, i'm sure there is a link between your photos and your painting, all different ways that you express your creativity. I wish I could paint, since it's not my thing, photography is the way I can capture pictures.

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  11. Meditation is where you find it. Great photos. Something to meditate on during those winter months, in addition to all my other reading. and Cooking.

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    1. enjoy your winter Pat, sounds like you'll be creative and busy.

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  12. I love this idea...seems to promote more creativity. Thanks for the review!

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  13. hi michelle, I think it does help creativity. I realize though I didn't talk about the final step: the technical challenge of capturing what you see with your eye.

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  14. sounds like a great book and your practice photos are great! I espeically love the green glass and the bug one. I can see how these views are just generally missed as we walk through life with our normal lens.

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    1. absolutely Wendy - when I practice this I have a sense that I could never ever be visually bored!

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  15. Dear Catmint,
    I am revisiting this post to tell you that I have purchased that book and am enjoying reading it. I have had a practice myself and I might even do a post on it later on. It is a very engaging read isn't it.
    Kirk

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    1. dear kirk, delighted to share experiencing this remarkable book and methodology with you.

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  16. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

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