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The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes Paperback – 1 May 2011
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Top international reviews
What I did like ... I like Buddhist philosophy. This book borrows the same philosophical aspect and applies it wonderfully to photography . That aspect is also referred to as "being awaken in the moment". The only way one can see clearly is when one disengages from thoughts or emotions that can cloud the perception. In other words, by taking photos in this meditative way one can avoid the distractions and help one "see" what really is there. I think I make it sound more complicated but really, the book is very simple to understand.
What I did not like ... Good photograph is not just about technical execution but it is about how it affects me emotionally like any other form of artwork. This, of course, is in complete contradiction of what book was trying to convey but the fact is, when I looked at the examples in the book, most of them were uninspiring. I find that taking the Buddhist approach too literally can be more frustrating because it will create very bland, mediocre results. Buddhist philosophy is also about seeing the wonders of everyday life that one may perceive as boring or uninteresting. I think that these examples were missing that sense wonder that the photographer may have experienced at that moment but it was not conveyed in successful manner.
The bottom line is, I adopted the meditative approach but I ignored the "warnings" about post-processing, about beautifying photos because as reality is subjective, I want to show reality seen trough my eyes.
Repecto a las fotografías, las que se muestran en la web y que me parecen interesantes y me llevaron a comprar el libro, están hechas por público general y sí me dan una idea fresca y actual. En cambio, no tienen nada que ver con las que se muestran en el libro, todas son fotografías de autores reconocidos principalmente siglo XX (principios y hasta los años 70), no son nada parecidas a lo que se muestra en web.
Las fotografías del libro son un estilo de un arte tan subjetivo que para mí no son fotografías nada sugerentes ni interesantes sino en general malas fotografías pero hechas por autores reconocidos que se salieron del molde en su momento y que sólo son dignas de aparecer en un libro por el simple hecho de que las ha hecho un fotógrafo reconocido. Hay miles de fotografías publicadas en sitios de internet mucho más artísticas e interesantes.
He leído muchos libros técnicos en inglés sin problemas, pero en éste, el poco texto que tiene está redactado en un inglés tan lleno de expresiones hechas que se hace muy difícil entenderlo para personas no nativas.
Para mí ha sido una pérdida completa de dinero.
It gets a bit too philosophical for me at times so I could not give it a 5 but I tried some of the exercises.
This is not a book on the technical aspects too much (like shutter speed, etc) but more on composition which is what photography is all about. It has made me take more interesting photos with more thought put into the process.
I've studied advanced Eastern philosophies formally at USA universities and while residing in Asian countries long term (Japan, India, China). That's why the book seems simple and basic to me. If you are an American and have never read any Eastern philosophy this book may be your first taste of a different why of thinking (as mentioned by some of the other reviews here).
The Tibetan word "miksang" which means "good eye" is at the basis of contemplative photography. But this book was not written by the Tibetan Dharma teacher who applied the miksang concept to photography. The Western explanation of an Eastern concept feels unsettling and I think that is why so many have a problem with this book (based on the reviews left here). The book is basically the Buddhist "first thought best thought" applied to image making with a camera.
This book is partially about making a photo based on one's first impression of a scene and recommends that we live in the moment while doing so. Ok, but then the second assignment tells you to force yourself to take 20 shots of something ordinary such as your garage wall. So that comes across as a contradiction to some readers, rather than a development or going to the next level.
I had already started slowing down and working my own shots harder ( and one I worked on especially hard until I got it exactly the way I wanted it was selected for Getty images, but then others of my shots were too). But after hearing about miksang I developed an interest in it and decided to read this book to find out more and to see if the contents of the book would help me add anything to my own practice of and thoughts on photography. I've read half of this book and I think some of what I've read has reinforced some things in me that were already there (hopefully making them stronger)--I did notice a change in me while taking photos today. It's too soon to tell. But, if so, then the book was worth buying and reading.
What I dislike about this book, and "miksang" photography in general (even to the point of annoyance), has to do with the exposures used by the practitioners of miksang photography (not their minimal compositions).
What bothers me most are some of the blah, grey, desaturated images made in the name of miksang. That's what really doesn't make any sense and I think this bothers others as well (as stated in reviews here). The human eye does not see a faded-out world or washed out views. I don't understand what miksang has to do with faded high-key images. It seems to me that certain miksang photographers are combining the current trend in high key images while working in opposition to the old school darker exposures(think Edward Weston's Bell Pepper image), and if so, then that is not miksang. That is not making photographs in the moment but rather the main concept of those images is based in fad/trend and showing up other photographers as old fashioned-- things the book says to forget while shooting.
I even heard one photographer (in a YouTube video) say that her photos were based on Miksang and then she spelled it for the audience "m-i-x-s-o-n-g" I'm not kidding, she really did spell it wrong! If you are teaching a live workshop on miksang and it's also being videotaped, at least correctly spell the word that is the basis of the workshop. Also the photos she showed in her slide show were consistently desaturated and could not have been made in the moment but based on a trend for desaturated images and therefore not miksang. So that is why reviewers here tend to focus on the contradictions in the book's text and the images. Many of the images to illustrate the concept need some explanatory text below them to make sense, IMO.
THIS IS NOT THAT BOOK. This book is focused on seeing, and capturing, what is really there in the world. It is less about creating the perfect image and more about noticing the amazing images around you. Noticing the world and being attentive to it.
I appreciate all those other books and read plenty of them. They have done wonders for my technical understanding of what I am doing and have allowed me to better capture what I see. But this text is the only one that actually helped me SEE better. Indispensable reading for aspiring mindful photographers.
I do appreciate the advice to eliminate preconceived ideas of composition and go with the intuitive side of my art. I love color & integrating my photography with a painterly style. Perhaps, down the line I will return to this book & reevaluate my perspective.
Insofar as the actual craft used to write the book - well written, concise & exercises provided to demonstrate concepts.
This book is about using a camera to assist you in a Buddhist visual meditation practice. It is not actually a photography book. Read Alan Shi's excellent 1 star review. It's right on and I am merely adding to it.
If you are a photographer interested in creating art, this book is an exasperating combination of techniques that can sharpen the eye and concepts that dilute or even misdirect the process of creating art. To see what I mean, look at how many of the puzzled and perplexed reviewers say the example pictures are abstract. In contrast, the authors explain that the intent of this practice is to capture a flash of perception, which they say means (in part) trying not to exaggerate, dramatize, or spin the image in any kind of way. There's obviously some kind of disconnect between the intent and the reaction, but what is it?
One problem with the notion that you can 'capture a clear perception' is that your perception won't fit onto a photographic image. Your perceptions are formed this way. The eyes skip around, re-focusing and adapting to brightness and color temperature on the fly, and 'taking a shot' at each stopping point. The visual cortex dictates the next stopping point and assembles these separate pictures into a seamless mental map of the world without us ever noticing the jumps, the gaps, or the stitching. What our brains do is the same idea as HDR but several technological leaps ahead, especially in the `where to look next' department. This means that you cannot avoid choosing how much and what part of your unique perception to capture in camera, even if your goal is the most literal reportage. Pretending you don't select is just a particularly pointless form of dishonesty.
There's another twist that complicates things from the experimental Buddhist perspective. The processing of the raw data (edges, color, contrast, motion) into a 3D map of the world happens in the visual cortex; well before the addition of labels, judgements, desires, or even recognition. So, freeing yourself of attachments won't get you to pure perception. Your visual cortex has already processed light rays into objects, even if they are objects you have never seen before and don't know the names of.
So, on the one hand, if you already have some meditation practices, this is a very interesting addition and is fun. Also, if you are wondering why your shots just don't seem evocative, or struggle getting target-lock on a subject, this might help. However, even the low-brow web-page "FARTing for Fantastic Photos" has pointers this book doesn't. (Oh, am I going to get flamed for mentioning that guy on the same page as this book. Talk about cognitive dissonance.)
******** Update 5/18/2013 *********************
Upon further consideration and an experiment, I changed my rating to 4 star.
The techniques in this book work so well for spotting a subject, for helping me to not walk by an opportunity, for establishing target-lock, that I had to amend my review. The "step 1: A flash of perception" is worth the price of the book if you can make it work for you.
On the other hand, the books' assertion that 'first idea is the best idea' seems to be busted by my experiment of showing art-aware friends a sequence of photos of the same subject. Over a span of about 200 photos of 40 subjects, the first shot of a subject was the favorite a quarter of the time and the last shot was the favorite half the time. The middle two or three shots in each sequence of exploring the subject scored the remaining 25% in a pretty random distribution. So, what happened there? Did I disprove 'first ideas is best idea' or did I perform their 'form the equivalent' step of the process by thinking with my camera. Unclear, but interesting.