The other day I finished reading the book “The Tao of Photography – Seeing beyond Seeing“, from Philippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro.
For a time already I have particularly enjoyed reading books about philosophy, art and photography. On this book, I happened to find the three subjects at once, really connected.
It was quite a revelation to see so many truths related to the way we should approach photography, intimately connected to the Tao philosophy of the Chuang-Tzu.
As Philippe Gross mentions on his book, one of the main barriers for a liberated life is what he calls the “constricted awareness”. For millenia of evolution, a survival mental kit implanted in our brains has taught us to discern between what we like and what we do not, to label things, to classify, to order, to categorize, to accept and to reject, to judge, to analyze, to rush. What might have helped us to secure a place in the wilderness might have become however a major barrier for a liberated life…So used to seeing the trees, we have lost the sight of the forest.
For the artist and the photographer in particular, all these mental templates come with a major problem: the barrier to see, the barrier to feel, the barrier to connect, the barrier to transmit… The constricted awareness becomes the enemy number 1 of the photographer, blocks his vision, fills him-her with frustration and preconceived ideas, freezes him with fear and doubts, drowns him with expectations and goals, mines the way with smoke bombs and distractions…
Becoming a photographer has meant for me learning to see the world in a different way. In a certain manner, it has demanded, and still does, that I learn to see myself in a different way. Or maybe just the opposite, trying NOT to see myself. More and more I have realized as a photographer that most of my best images are made when I engage into a process where I just forget I am there. I am so absorbed by the place, the moment, the light and my own thoughts that hours can pass in what I would say were minutes and I just totally abandon myself to my photography. In those moments, as Henri Cartier-Bresson mentions, ” I blend in like a fish in water, I forget myself”. I have also learned to, bit by bit, forget all preconceptions about what should be good or bad, suitable or unsuitable, to forget the work made by others, to just go out to enjoy the experience of being there and bringing a photograph as a nice bonus, to feel no rush, need or hurry to create photographs. I think it is way too easy to turn into a trophy hunter, to feel the pressure to bring home a “killer” photograph (an adjective I have always hated) or to get too attached to a certain kind of look, cliché or photographic situation that we exploit over and over again because that is the way it should be and people expect to be THE way.
Sometimes it is really difficult to see through the smoke, that smoke that we tend to produce ourselves, a smoke which not only avoids us from seeing the world around but which leaves us alone with our rational consciousness, the mortal enemy to uncover our own spirit and soul. During my progression as a photographer, I realize I have gone through phases where smoke has been dense. This smoke has adopted different shapes: The fixation on the technological aspect of photography, the influence of other photographers work, the pop culture of the wow photographs or the fast food of the visual world, the me-too, the search for beauty over everything else, the search for public approval…Years ago, I left on my photo trips with a list of photographic opportunities, tended to organize my photography days in an almost military way, planned my shooting sessions and absorbed the imagery other photographers have produced from that place. All that resulted in a quite impressive productivity in photographic terms, lots of “killer” images and big portfolios. For sure that was a good way to become commercially successful in the world of landscape photography. However, that resulted also in less personal photographs, a less personal experience and a less personal way of living life. Bit by bit, as if I had eaten dozens of hamburgers, I felt more and more bloated, undigested but at the same time empty.
I changed slowly my approach, and I started going out there, without expectations, with the eyes opened, trying to find the wonder in every single little thing, forgetting the fact I am photographer and only realizing I had used a camera once the moment was gone. I started so to forget photography as a goal and realized its beauty as a tool, as a mean for something higher.
Nowadays, I see photography has helped me enjoy everything around me. If I visit Scotland and I have 2 weeks of rain, I love (and photograph) rain. If I visit Finland and I have minus 40 degrees I love (and photograph) cold. If I come home with 2 photographs after 2 weeks, I am happy. If I see a wonderful sunrise but I just do not feel like photographing it, I just experience it and let it go. If I hear my brain telling me what to do I just ignore it and admit I am not in the mood for photography. If my image does not create a wow amongst the community of photographers, I simply do not give a heck. It is not been an easy task and in fact this process of revelation is still taking place. The truth is, as I relax myself and avoid having any goal in my mind, the goal becomes real.
And the truth is, that goal is not to create photographs. What I really want is that photography helps me realize I am alive, here, connected to the land, the light and the moment. And the best way to achieve this goal is simply by not thinking about it. Just going out there and becoming a wanderer of the way, a liver of life. If swimming against the current is not possible, I just prefer to float with it. Let photography become the boat.