Who would have thought that a photography workshop could introduce one to such a radically different way of seeing the world that the camera would become secondary and almost unnecessary? For me, this process has come about through a slow, gentle awakening and letting go of pre-conceived notions of image, subject, words, and representations. I now often find myself looking at the world as if sideways, letting what I see catch me by surprise, experiencing a different quality in everyday objects. Sometimes this happens through the creative audience process, sometimes just by accident. While the actual photography has become a much richer experience, the practice infuses many other aspects of my daily life.
The creative audience experience has shown us that you can’t shortcut the process. From time to time we sit with an image that just doesn’t resonate, no matter how striking it may look at first glance. Inevitably, it turns out that the image had not been captured through a process that is mindful, but rather the photographer was “shooting from the hip.” Sometimes, just for fun, we look at images that someone took this way. Since the response to them can be so varied, it’s almost as if they were, in a sense, out of focus. This is especially evident when compared to an image that was created through the care, patience, and stillness of this practice. It still amazes me how perfectly the creative audience will converge with the artist on a singular feeling evoked by such an image.
I think of the influence of Zen practice on the creative process as a type of lens focusing on certain ineffable qualities beyond light, color and texture. The camera lens focuses the three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional plane. Narrowing the aperture brings more of this plane into focus by reducing stray light beams. Likewise, the creative process brings an additional underlying dimension into focus, perhaps by reducing the chaos in the artist’s heart and mind. The creative audience then becomes the lens through which this image is re-projected so that the subject’s underlying dimension can come into view.
Ty Guthrie is a conservation geographer working for the Nature Conservancy in Boulder.
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