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Lions Roar : May 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2011 59 Generally we are unaware of these cur- rents of mental activity, and it is hard to distinguish what we see from what we think about. For example, when we are in a res- taurant or on a bus with a bunch of strang- ers, we might look around and think, “he looks unpleasant; that person over there looks nice; she looks disagreeable.” we imagine that we see these people the way they really are, that we are seeing their real characteristics, but unpleasant, nice, and disagreeable are not things that can be seen like green blouses or gray hats. they are the projections of our thoughts. thinking mind is working all the time, projecting, labeling, categorizing. these thoughts seem so be- lievable, but if we recollect how often our first impressions of people turn out to be wrong, we will see how random this think- ing process really is. photography can be used to help distin- guish the seen from the imagined, since the camera registers only what is seen. It does not record mental fabrications. as the pho- tographer aaron siskind said, “we look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there, [what] we have been conditioned to expect... but, as photogra- phers, we must learn to relax our beliefs.” contemplative photography the word “contemplate” sometimes means to think things over, but when we use the term we are indicating a process of reflec- tion that draws on a deeper level of intel- ligence than our usual way of thinking about things. the root meaning of the word “contemplate” is connected with careful observation. It means to be pres- ent with something in an open space. this space is created by letting go of the cur- rents of mental activity that obscure our natural insight and awareness. In contemplative photography the cam- era’s literalness is used as a mirror to reflect your state of mind. It shows when you shot what you saw—what actually appeared— and when you shot what you imagined. when a properly exposed photograph faithfully replicates your original percep- tion, you saw clearly. when your original perception is masked in the photograph by shadows, reflections, or other extrane- ous things that you didn’t notice, you were imagining. you can distinguish which it was by the results. clear seeing produces clear, fresh images. photographs that aren’t grounded in clear seeing are usually dis- appointing. (you might get lucky and get a good shot of something you didn’t see clearly, but that is the exception.) how does clear seeing produce clear im- ages? when you see clearly, your vision is not obscured by expectations about getting a good or bad shot, agitation about the best technique for making the picture, thoughts photobymIchaelwood