“Instead of looking elsewhere for nourishment, we can live artistic, elegant lives, appreciating the details of our ordinary existence.”
~ “The Practice of Contemplative Photography,” Andy Karr, Michael Wood

This week, I began reading the book “The Practice of Contemplative Photography, Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes” by Andy Karr and Michael Wood.

I first read about the book in a blog post by Robin of Gotham Girl Chronicles and bought the book because I was attracted by its title – “contemplative” and “seeing the world with fresh eyes” – thinking this sounded good not just for photography but for living.

The book pushes me to get past the rule of thirds, capturing photos in the best lighting situations (sunrise, sunset, overcast days) and using gimmicks like unique angles and slow shutter speeds. There’s nothing wrong with using those technique. After all, it’s fun to play with settings and adding filters and other edits in post processing. But to grow as a photographer and “seer”, I don’t want to rely on those things. I want to see and try to capture the reality of the moment. To see the ordinary as something that doesn’t need to be dressed up or altered to be interesting.

I take very few photos of people. Being a rather private person (I know! I don’t seem like it do I?!), I don’t like to intrude on other people. I want to respect their personal space. But I marvel in a crowd how every person is unique. Even if similarly dressed, there is usually something the person has added that tells me something about them. Or at least causes me to imagine something about them. Anything can mean something. Anything can become a story.

Like this woman. I first noticed the teal in her glasses and wondered what drew her to select them amongst all the other choices. And I wanted to know if her tattoo, which appeared to be a symbol, stood for something and what that something is. Some tattoos are just tattoos and signify nothing beyond peer pressure. Other tattoos carry a great deal of meaning, as mine does, which you can read about “here”.

Is it weird to find everything so interesting? To look at people and feel very grateful for their presence and for a moment of encounter, even if all we do is pass each other on the sidewalk?

I’m working on a piece right now on depression and suicide that touches on this idea of how each life matters. As Jennifer Michael Hecht said in an Interview on On Being, we owe it to each other to remain alive:

“…your staying alive means so much more than you really know or that anyone is aware of at this moment. But we’re in it together in this profound way, and you can take some strength from that… we have different moods that profoundly change our outlook, and it’s not right to let your worst one murder all the others.”

I think this realization of the significance of each life is a part of what I feel when I have these kinds of chance encounters, where something about someone connects with something in me. Our existence, mine, yours, really is remarkable.

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  1. That’s beautifully written, Maery. It sounds like a fascinating book. I’m the same as you about people photos… except when I can catch my nephews when they don’t see me!

    You asked about my meditation. I’ve been doing “mindfulness” meditation for about 10 years, on and off. In the past year, I let it slip. Now, I’m trying to use it calm my brain because I think it might eventually help me to get off the strong migraine meds I’m on right now. I meditate in the afternoon or evening mainly because that’s when my brain starts to feel tired and frazzled. I think I’d have the same trouble as you if I tried to do it first thing in the morning.

    Now, I’m going to look up the book you talked about!

  2. I just read about the book that you highlighted in your post. It’s funny that I was talking about mindfulness meditation in light of the topic of the book!

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