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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Something Mystical

When I started writing here, more or less, I think I was obsessed with inspiration and how it works. There's a bunch of neurology on this, how our big fat brains manage to pull startling answers to problems kind of out of the æther. I felt then, and I still think, that this is a useful tool for sorting out how to take a picture of something.

I have come to believe that there's more to it than that.

Sure, if you have a clear idea how what you want a picture or set of pictures to convey, then you can sit around poking the triggers for inspiration and trying to work out the right thing to do. And when the solution arrives, if it arrives, it will likely appear more or less fully formed from essentially nothing. You'll just see it, and the answer will be obviously right, because that's how your big fat brain does that. That's inspiration. That's the "Eureka" moment, and you can in fact learn to manage that after a fashion.

There's more to it than that, though. Maybe it's the same neurological mechanism, maybe it's the voice of God, maybe there isn't even any meaningful difference between those two things.

There's a whole process of seeing and being present. To know even what you might want to convey is a bit of a puzzle much of the time.

Where am I? What is there here? What can I see?

The Miksang people have a piece of this, and a whole detailed process for noticing things. I think they're got hold of the wrong end of the horse, because they all seem to notice the same trivialities, and they have a bunch of other weird strictures that tend to drive the results in the same direction. Still, the underlying idea of stilling the inner voice and simply seeing strikes me as solid, although there was some disagreement in the comments when last I wrote about this.

There is a long series of books entitled The Inner Game of ... where the ellipsis can be replaced with god damn near any activity. Skiing, Music, Cards, Philosophy, Welding, I dare say. The idea in all these books is the same. In your head you have not one but two monologues running, as you try to do something like ski or play the piano. One of the monologues is pretty positive, and the other is quite critical: You're going to fall! What note comes next?!!! and so on. The Inner Game books all teach you the same methods for stilling that second voice, and in this way they quite resemble the Miksang book.

Getting the monologue about how should I shoot this? maybe rule of thirds... if I bend my knees and move to the left then... to stop is an excellent first step. Tragically, the bulk of what passes for photographic education is about adding more material for that annoying voice to go on about. This all interferes with actually seeing what's there. You're too obsessed with the sign "growing out of" the model's head to notice that she looks miserable.

The first thing, surely, has to be to see. To free your muse, your soul, your emotional self, your right brain, your Buddha. A commenter on my earlier remarks on Miksang suggested that the inner monologue is critical to their working, and I am going to interpret that perhaps too liberally: It's perhaps not about complete silence in your mind, but allowing the proper voice to speak. Not the voice that drones on about focal lengths and apertures, but Buddha's voice, the voice of the muse.

With that mystical, or neurological, connection you have a chance of seeing what is actually there. You might notice the miserable model as well as the signpost behind her. You might also have some insight in to what you feel, what you believe, what the point of this exercise even is. You might even get a little nudge of inspiration about how to do it.

This, ultimately, is where I am going. Or at least the direction I am trying to go. I admit that I spend perhaps more time wrestling the horse back onto the path than I do actually, you know, proceeding down the path.

I want to see and to feel first. For a moment, now and then, I can really see what's in front of me. More rarely, I can translate that into something with a camera. I'm trying to shed the engineer and become the artist, to spend more time in the magic and less in the technicalities.

I want to be Buddha, now, if I can just figure out the right algorithm...


  1. Bravo! As Jay Maisel famously says, "Go out empty, return full."

  2. You're a trained mathematician, right? Then a little logical reasoning should fix the inner voice problem:

    1. The inner voice tells you that you're a jerk who will fail.
    2. The inner voice is a part of you.

    Conclusion: The inner voice belongs to a jerk who will fail.

    As a mathematician, you wouldn't pay attention to a jerk, would you?

    Best, Thomas

  3. If you want to be Buddha, practice buddhism.