Tuesday, January 28, 2014
The Art Of Vision
Learn to connect with the landscape like the great masters Ansel Adams, Minor White, Philip Hyde and others
I invite those to whom these statements seem a compound of cheap psychology and cheaper metaphysics to clear their minds and submit this matter to an experimental test. If they will be patient and honest—and unless they belong to that minority which is temperamentally incapable of the simplest contemplative act—they will emerge from the experiment possessed of a little new knowledge as to the nature of the relation between the human mind and the outer world.White assigned his photography students an experiment. They were to choose a single object for focused attention: a picture, statue, tree, plant, book or any other single item. They were to practice looking at this one thing, "willfully, yet tranquilly," and tune out all other messages and visual stimuli from any other aspects of the world. "Do not think, but, as it were, pour out your personality towards it," White said. "Almost at once, this new method of perception will reveal unsuspected qualities in the external world. First you will perceive about you a strange and deepening quietness; a slowing down of our feverish mental time. Next you will become aware of a heightened significance, an intensified existence in the things at which you look. As you, with your consciousness, lean out towards it…it seems as though the barrier between its life and your own, between subject and object, had melted away. You are merged with it… Life has spoken to life, but not to the surface intelligence."
Often, photographers today are in a hurry. I'm no exception, though the more I photograph, the more I slow down. Photographers often must get somewhere else, or they're trying to shoot as many frames as they can in a certain amount of time. They may not be "allowing" or "making" photographs, but rather they're blasting away.
My father embraced the contemplative approach because he always was somewhat of a mystic, though White warned his students not to naively assume that what they were doing in this process was equal to the transcendental contemplation of the mystic, even while they were harnessing some of the same natural faculties as a mystic. Also, White emphasized that this perspective applies to the creation of photographs. Once the prints were made, White taught his students to shift into critical analysis.
My father entered a different space mentally while in the act of making photographs. He had done this even before meeting White, especially while out in nature, but White formalized the idea as a method that could be taken further. Dad kept a kind of intentional perimeter around the area he worked. Stepping into that circle was like walking into church: holy, quiet and reverent. This working space was invisible, but quite palpable. In this enabling state of higher awareness, he missed nothing.
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