Seeing and Execution

With my first workshop — Quiet and Creativity — coming up in June, I’ve been reading a lot about the topic. I’m not terribly articulate about my photographic process so I was hoping that I could learn how to explain things better from others. I’ve been looking at everyone from Minor White in the the 1960s to the Contemplative Photographers of today.

And, in the process, I’ve realized that what I’ve been doing with writing is what I’ve been preaching against in photography: namely, that someone else can articulate for me and I don’t have to use my own words and experience to say it. So, here goes…

To me, creativity has two aspects: Seeing and Execution.

Execution consists of knowing how to use your equipment — how to operate you camera, how your camera sees things. How different lenses see things. Then there’s post processing. How to take the raw material that your camera produces and make it into a beautiful photograph. The thing about execution is, all of it, can be learned by study and practice. Because it’s something that can be learned, that is where most of us spend our time. We need a better camera, better lenses, better locations and subject matter. We need a more powerful computer. It has to be a Mac, not a PC. And so on.

Most camera magazines are geared toward execution. We’re led to believe that if we could spend some time in Yosemite, or Denali or Arches, and if we had that new Sony mirrorless, we could be as good and proud as the others. Execution is easy to write about because it’s all about conveying information. And, with convincing readers of their need for new equipment and special locations, magazines can sell ads.

Don’t get me wrong, execution is very important. You need good equipment. You need to know how to use it properly. However execution without seeing will produce empty and me-too photographs.

Seeing is hard to teach because seeing is unique to each of us. I can’t teach you to see like me. It’s a waste of your time for me to force you to look at some grass fronds till you can see the beauty in them that I can.

What I can’t teach (but I can try to describe) is that state I get into where I can look at grass fronds — or as in the photo above, ice — and see their beauty and grace.

Just like I have to drop what I’ve learned and read and try to write about seeing from my own experience, so we have to do the same when we go out and take photographs.

The difficult thing about teaching seeing is that it can’t be “done”. It’s about un-doing. It’s about not looking for a certain type of photograph. It’s about not trying to take a certain type of photograph. It’s not about doing anything. It’s about being quiet and responding to our surroundings. Some have described it as like seeing things for the first time, but I think it’s more like noticing things you might not have noticed before.

I’m no zen master or Buddhist. When I go out with my camera I have all sorts of crap running through my mind. The thing is, I love taking photographs so much, and I so love looking around at my surroundings, taking it all in and being filled with joy and excitement, that I’m willing to drop my crap about success, money, power, and security at least for a while and just get immersed in responding and photographing. Those desires and fears may be waiting patiently to occupy my mind when I’m finished, but at least for a while, I’m free.

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~ by danbaumbach on January 3, 2018.

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