2.03.2011

The quiet moments between hectic life.



I write a lot about jobs.  And those are vital to any photographer's career.  But I don't spend enough time writing about the importance of quiet time and meditation for creative people.  And when I say creative people I really mean all of us.  Everyone.

I just read a study about the value of meditation.  Not "swami-cult-chant-incense" meditation (unless you are into that....) but simple, mindful meditation.  We tend to go like the wind in our daily lives and we're confronted with new facts, new ideas and change all the time.  But we rarely make enough time to actually let our brains process the things we learn and confront.  The study, here , points to meditation as a tool to increase attention, create more grey matter and become better at learning.  Other studies document meditation as a blood pressure and cortisol lowering mechanism that could prevent disease (dis-ease) and anxiety.

We tend to reward photographers for writing stuff about daring feats of lighting, meeting heroic deadlines and jousting with evil bean counters and this focus creates a self reinforcing spiral of dis-information that makes many freelancers feel that they should be working until they drop every day.  I am guilty of presenting my version of life in this manner and I felt that I should be more inclusive in descriptions of how my life is really structured.

In this post I want to talk about the important of the quiet moments between hectic life.

Walking with a camera.  When I go out walking with my camera it's not with the mindset of an explorer on an expedition, with the goal of coming back with treasures (although I couch it that way when I shouldn't).  When I go out walking with a camera I am mindful that I'm just doing a walking meditation.  When I see something I like I snap a photograph. And then I let go of thinking about the thing that attracted my attention.  The rest of the time I'm trying to keep my mind clear of all the warring thoughts that impel us to worry and thrash around.  I follow a route and keep my mind on just experiencing everything as it opens up in front of me.  I think all solitary walking is a form of meditation because the cadence of your walk keeps your mind focusing subconsciously on being here now.

Catching some floor.  A few years ago, during the big downturn (circa 2006 and 2007 for photographers) I struggled with profound anxiety.  The way I had done things for years shifted in a heart beat.  All structure exited the emergency exits and most of us were mired in a "wait and see" mode as we watched our working capital shrink and fizzle.  I went to therapy.  I tried Xanax.  Nothing seemed to relieve the tension and apprehension.  Then I decided that every time the anxiety became overwhelming I'd grab a yoga mat, lie down on the nicely padded floor of my studio, close my eyes and meditate for half an hour.  I set my computer to ring an alarm, or I used a meditation CD with a timed thirty minutes of soft music.  This was the one thing that worked.  I could calm down enough to trace back to the quick thought that triggered my anxiety and de-fuse that mental bomb before it could do any more damage.

Eventually the anxiety went into total remission.  But I stay with the practice of meditating once or twice during the day and when I get off the floor I feel rested and calm and ready for the next task.  When I'm writing a book and I get stuck.  I hit the floor and meditate.  When I get back up the writing is easy.

Beyond meditation.  After the economic downturn started to recover here in Austin it felt good to book up work again.  There's a strong, pent up demand for new advertising and new images.  But even though my previous writing would lead you to believe that I work a lot I spend more time doing fun, human oriented things.  I book my morning swims in my business calendar.  If I miss a day because of a job I go into flex time mode and look for a place to make up the swim.  Even if it's just getting in the pool at sunset and swimming an easy mile.  When I'm not booked I make time to have lunch with friends.  Today I'm having lunch with a friend from an advertising agency.  Yesterday I had lunch at a ground breaking ceremony for the theater I shoot for.  We celebrated my 18 years of shooting for them.  I didn't even bring a camera. I just savored the moment.

Tomorrow I'll do some work in the morning and afternoon but I'll make time to have lunch with a photographer friend of mine.  We're working our way thru the "big shift" and our mutual support is priceless.  We know better than any of our friends what this struggle does to us and we're working on how to deflect the ambiguous nature of it all.

Time away is the secret to getting more energy.  You've probably heard that two photographers are getting on a bus and doing lighting workshops in 50 cities across the U.S.  While it may make sense for them economically it seems dangerous to the spirit of their work.  After big jobs I need time to read novels,  go to movies, have dinner parties and live the life I want to shoot.  If all I do is shoot and think about photography there's no reality left to reference outside of photography.  And a constant focus on tools and techniques without subject and concept is deadly to my way of seeing and being.

If the downturn taught me nothing else it is that downtime is a gift to be savored.  Experiences outside photography are the creative fuels we use to  come back and create art.  And art hits the audience it is made for.  If the art is ABOUT photography it appeals only to other photography obsessed people.  If art is ABOUT living life then the audience is infinite.

Relax.

13 comments:

The Exception said...

This was nice to read. It feels that sometimes photographers, at all levels, are caught up in seeing life from behind the lens over living it themselves; being outside the moment over living within it. This was a wonderful post to read. Enjoy the cool weather!

Elizabeth said...

I love going out with just one camera and one lens and natural light. It's soothing to go out and just wander and explore.

Great post!

Mike said...

I need to do this more often. My vision often gets put on the back burner at this job, and partly because I don't exercise it enough. Thanks for the advice, Kirk. By the way, I love the leaf shot.

Bold Photography said...

Kirk - next time I got to a Miksang photo class, I'll have to drag you along, kicking and screaming... very much along the lines of meditative photography...

christopheru said...

Nicely thought out I think. I particularly like the notion of walking about with a camera as a walking meditation. It is not so much about taking a picture for me, so much as it is about letting my mind open up and letting interesting things in a space that I know well leap out at me. The picture becomes a bonus.

Mike C said...

Excellent analysis. My favorite photographer Lee Friedlander said that when photographing, that he used to take his camera for a walk. Sometimes that separation from goal-oriented activity is just what we need.

Ed Lara said...

Kirk, this is one of your better posts yet. I agree with your view about the meditative and restorative value of simple, intuitive street shooting or "photo walkabouts". I am always very satisfied when I come back from these little photo shoots and find a sense of order and calm in even just one or two of the photos I have taken. It certainly centers me and helps keep the madness of the world at bay. I can see now why you are so resilient and have been able to weather the economic storm that hit commercial photography so hard.

Robert Billings said...

Kirk, I appreciate this post. Our work is quite stressful and a daily walk goes a long way toward good mental health. Mine is with a dog and a camera as well sometimes, although it is a challenge to take a thoughtful photograph with a terrier and his own agenda.

Clay said...

Nice reminder, especially today when the 1" of snow has shut the city down. I took my camera out to play in the snow. It was great, just watching the light come and go. I'm in a great frame of mind, too good to spoil by going to work.

kirk tuck said...

Just FYI, this post is setting a record for off line comments. Seems to have struck a chord with people who feel a bit unsure of the future, their plans, fate's plan for them and a bit of everything else. Be assured, you are not alone. Reach out and reconnect with what you really want to do and who you really want to be. Thanks for the e-mails.

Tarjei T. Jensen said...

Physical activity is extremely important with regards to recharging a brain that is "empty".

Walking, running, dancing, cooking your dinner can work wonders.

Jessica said...

I completely agree with all of this. Well said.

Simon Lupton said...

I too have a m4/3 camera that fits in a pocket[ish] and find myself going for a walk just to take it out and see what I can find to take home with me.

In the car too I find myself varying my well travelled routes to familiar destinations not to avoid traffic but to just go see what is somewhere else on the way.

The m43 kit [GF-1 & 20mm] is proving all too handy and the temptation to expand it is getting to be a problem I'm hugely conscious of. Letting it grow to the point where I can no longer carry it about my person would be a disaster and self defeating. It's just so relaxing as it stands. No pressure to get a 'golden hour' shot at some awful time in the morning or evening.

Well, maybe just the 14mm pancake then - for street stuff...........