Mindfulness Within Photography
Covid 19 has had a terrible impact on all our lives and our mental wellbeing during the past year but one positive aspect for me is that I have had more opportunity to indulge in personal work without the need to sell anything. I firmly believe that mindfulness within photography is a key skill. The ability to clear your mind and concentrate totally on the scene or subject in front of the camera, to the exclusion of all external influences and pressures in a contemplative way is one of the most important steps towards creative satisfaction. As a photographer, it takes a lot of practice to approach the creative process meditatively but once the ability to do so has been acquired there is noticeable improvement in one’s creative output.
Into The Breach
In common with most people who are involved in visual arts and crafts, the pandemic has impacted my photography business dramatically. Throughout 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, all my wedding, portrait and event bookings have been either postponed or cancelled and all my workshops, apart from one that I was able to run in the Peak District in October 2020 between lockdowns, have also been postponed repeatedly and ultimately cancelled and all my clients refunded in full.
We photographers who depend on our skills for our livelihoods are having a tough time with little or no Government support until recently and I found myself in, what is for me, an unusual situation; I had to find another income stream outside of photography for the first time in many years.
Weathering The Storm
To keep the wolf from the door until our collective concept of ‘normality’ returns, I have been working at the coalface of the pandemic, or, rather, I’ve been immersed in the terrible end-game of Covid 19, dealing with some of the many unfortunate people who have lost their battle with the virus.
When I took the offer of the work, I was prepared for the fact that I would see things that are beyond my previous experience. What I was not initially prepared for was the horrendous scale of C-19 mortality that confronted me . The virus does not respect age, gender, race or borders. It is insidiously random and potentially lethal to everyone.
Day 1 in my new job was my Baptism of Fire, I was aware that seeing and handling so many deceased victims could easily have had a personal emotional cost as well as the increased risk of infection prior to the availability of adequate personal protection equipment and vaccination. For the sake of sanity, the nature of the work requires a degree of mental detachment from virtually everything other than the immediate task.
The meditative approach of mindfulness within photography is a technique that I have studied and practiced over a number of years. I apply the method to my photography processes as a matter of course and without doubt a similar approach has been invaluable to my mental wellbeing during this period of alternative employment.
I’m fortunate in living and working close to such diverse locations as the River Severn, Forest of Dean and The Cotswolds. The Severn and the Forest in particular are prime locations for quiet meditation and photography with the main focus on awareness of these unique environments.
Mindfulness within Photography
The tidal range of the River Severn at around 13 metres is one of the largest in the world and is responsible for the Severn Bore. The section just downstream of Lydney Harbour is one of my favourite haunts for photography. Not for the Bore, though, as the River is too wide at this point, but at low tide mud and sandbanks are revealed and these change in both shape and scale as the river rapidly drains down into the Severn Estuary.
The panoramic image at the top of this blog post was made a couple of weeks ago around 1730 with my Fuji GX617 and the T300 lens on Fuji Acros (vi). The tide was ebbing and the river drained rapidly on this calm evening. I watched what was happening to the scene before me for several minutes, mentally relaxing so that it was just the river, the transient sights and sounds of some of the wildlife it supports, the hazy sunset, my camera and myself.
Nothing else interfered with my creative triumvirate of self, moment and space at this time. I wasn’t making the image for Social Media Likes or with any intention for peer recognition, my mind was empty of such thoughts and ambition. I was making it for sheer creativity’s sake alone; Ars Gratia Artis.
Too many photographers place far too much emphasis on social media as a measure of their ability. I’ve seen good photographers devalue their images and, in few cases, their skills too, by allowing Social Media to distract them from their innate creativity. This background noise and unnecessary psychological pressure is the polar opposite to my personal concept of mindfulness within photography.
The two square images above were both made with my Hasselblad 503cw and Zeiss 250mm f4 sonnar CF lens on Kodak Tri-X. They were made on different days a couple of weeks before the panoramic image at the top.
My approach to all three images was exactly the same in all three cases, the only difference with the Hasselblad images was that the tide was coming in. In the image I made with the GX617, the tide was going out.
Approaching photography in a contemplative way is motivational and restorative. As I wrote earlier, my work during the pandemic has been harrowing at times and could easily dominate my thoughts negatively. I won’t allow that to happen; mindfulness within photography is not only a creative asset, it is holistic in application.