TALKING IMAGES 18 – TRACY HALLETT ON KEEPING A RECEPTIVE MIND

 

I wrote recently about losing  photographic inspiration and motivation, and of being considerably helped by an article in B+W Photography magazine.  This article is by Tracy Hallett, a freelance writer, editor and photographer and, quite simply, the more I read it, the more relevant it becomes and the better (or maybe more reassured) I feel.  I would like to reproduce this article in full here but obviously can’t do that, and so I’m going instead to reproduce some of Tracy’s thoughts that particularly resonate with me.  (Should you wish to buy a copy of the magazine that the article is in, it is the September 2015 issue of Black+White Photography; visit www.thegmcgroup.com, or write to GMC Publications Ltd, 166 High Street, Lewes BN7 1XU, UK).

.

Tracy Hallett (photo credit: www.opoty.co.uk)

.

The overall gist of Tracy’s thoughts is given in the article’s lead-in phrases:

.

By adopting a beginner’s mind, trusting our instincts and letting go of our expectations we can stop looking and start seeing.

.

RETAINING A CHILD’S SENSE OF WONDER

These few words contain vast and fundamental truths.  First, the beginner’s mind.  I have long believed and have heard from many quarters, that success in photography can be aided by trying to keep a childlike appreciation of things, by trying to retain some of the wonder of childhood, the world as seen through a child’s eyes.  Tracy takes the good example of our reaction to a toy train.  In a child’s eyes, this toy is a series of different shapes, colours and textures, and the child may well take the toy in its mouth to further explore these shapes and textures. 

.

Whereas as adults we simply say “Yes, its a train, like the one that takes me to work and back every day”.   We have lost the childhood magic of really seeing this toy, and until we regain some of that wonder and magic, we will not be able to really see the objects around us.  We will not, for example, be able to create striking pictures of the commonplace – an empty bottle with side lighting, a flower, washing hanging up to dry, an old woman’s hands clasping her knitting.

.

TRUSTING OUR INSTINCTS

Then, second, trusting our instincts.  Another way forward with photography is to increase our visual awareness and experience, and a way of doing this is to look at as great a range of images as possible – and not just photographs either, but drawings, paintings, cartoons, advertising – anything that adds to the visual libraries I our heads.  But, and this is a big but, what is not so useful is trying to recreate the style – or the specific image – or another photographer.  My view is that it is far better to photograph with our hearts, with our gut instincts if you like, and as Tracy says:

.

By learning to trust our own instincts we stand a much better chance of developing an artistic style that is unique to us …. Breaking some of the ‘rules’ of composition can lead to subtle images that express our own unique way of seeing the world.

.

LEARNING TO LET GO OF OUR EXPECTATIONS

And, finally, letting go of our expectations.  As she says, we are conditioned to expect end results – we go to the supermarket to buy food; we worker harder at our jobs to gain promotion; we go out to take photographs and worry that we’ll return without any that are worthwhile – which means that the trip will have been a waste of time.  Once again, Tracy says something that I have long believed:

.

We are so used to doing things all the time that we forget what it feels like to switch into being mode.  By placing too much emphasis on obtaining the perfect picture we spend most of our time living in the future, when all we really have is the present.

.

EMPTYING OUR MINDS

When I wrote that post about walking around a churchyard at West Harptree and emptying my mind of extraneous thoughts – and gaining significantly from this process –  I was following Tracy’s advice.  In her B+W article she relates this to the Buddhist tradition of Mindfulness, and the seven mental attitudes that Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests for achieving this state.  I don’t want to re-iterate all of that detail here, but you can buy a copy of B+W via the link given above and, in addition, Tracy will be running Mindful Photography workshops in the New Forest (Hampshire, UK) this autumn.  You can contact her at flash-of-inspiration@outlook.com .

.

For now, and in relation to Mindfulness, a last quote from Tracy:

.

If we just observe a scene without getting carried away on a stream of unconscious thoughts, we are FULLY PRESENT (my capitals), seeing the world clearly, not through a filter of ideas and opinions …. The moment we drift into a reverie we lose touch with our immediate surroundings, and we damage our ability to see clearly.

.

The words “fully present” are the guts of this.  If we are going to take good pictures we need to fully engage with our surroundings – which brings me to something about which I have deep concern.  So many people now are slaves to the screens of their various electronic devices, some of which at least are always with them – mobile phones, cameras, TVs, tablets, fitness calculators, smart watches, etc.  I know an intelligent young person who lives by her phone – so much so that when she has a meal with her best friend, it is quite a big decision for them both to switch off their phones so that they can have uninterrupted conversation and fully enjoy each other’s company.  I do wonder where this dependence on screens is going.  Will future generations live entirely within electronic worlds?

.

And its not rocket science to realise, is it, that interacting with any sort of screen prevents us – often very significantly – from being “fully present” anywhere.  Enough said?

.

A last thought, a declaration of intent maybe. I have of course grown up in an age when there were very few screens, and certainly no mobile ones, and I have not the slightest intention of ever becoming a screen slave.  I watch some TV, write this blog on a PC,  have an antique mobile phone that is more often than not switched off – and use my cameras’ screens mostly for fleeting checks for highlight clipping.  Maybe I’m missing out socially, but wherever I am I do enjoy being there fully – although Somerset cider and Belgian beer of course may, from time to time, blur my perceptions of exactly … where … I am … 

.

And no, before you ask, most photos that I take while drunk are rubbish – although I’m going to post one soon that is perhaps not so bad!

.

.

.

 

About Adrian Lewis
Photographer working in monochrome, colour and combinations of the two - with a great liking for all sorts of images, including Minimalism, landscapes, abstracts, soft colour, people, movement, nature - I like to be adventurous in my photography, trying new ideas and working in many genres. And I'm fond of Full English Breakfasts and Duvel golden ale, though not necessarily together.

6 Responses to TALKING IMAGES 18 – TRACY HALLETT ON KEEPING A RECEPTIVE MIND

  1. icastel says:

    All of this resonates with me. I’ve been attending some mindful awareness sessions in the past several months and have, without thinking, found myself taking a different approach during my photowalks. I end up people watching more, which is something I’ve always enjoyed doing and probably one of the reasons i like street photography. As for keeping a child’s view of things, YES!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sallyann says:

    Nice post, lots of your talking pictures go way over my head but I can identify with lots of this one, especially the childlike mind and gut instincts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

This blog has two pleasures for me - creating the images and hearing from you - so get your thoughts out to the world!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: