Posts Tagged ‘botanical’

The ‘Good Eye’

goodeye_2Like many who have built a career around being a photographer, I’ve often been told I have a ‘good eye’. It’s more or less a necessary job skill. A question that has come up throughout my career  is whether or not having a ‘good eye’ is something that can be learned, or is it some innate ability? ‘Good’ here doesn’t mean good as we usually use the word, as in good or bad. For sure, some are gifted with a ‘good eye’ —a natural sense of the visually correct and beautiful. In my experience, some of the people with the best ‘eyes’ have not necessarily made it their life’s work to do anything with their innate ability. Democratizing social media platforms such as Instagram now offer an outlet for those amazing ‘eyes’—they abound—and humble me.

The Good Eye can be learned. On the one hand it’s very much about educating our process of Seeing— becoming more discerning observers. My eye was, and still is, honed by looking at great art-constantly, and asking myself: why does this work? We can break down and study the components of visual discernment— color, form, shape and proportion, light and shadow, contrast, texture, line, angles and curves, composition—and become more acute visual thinkers.  This is about the practice of seeing–deliberately. It’s a kind of sophisticated attentional training. By tuning in to the components of sophisticated imagery we wire our visual sense to the Good. Like anything else, the more you focus (pun intended) on a skill, the more automatic it becomes.

The second and equally important part of developing a Good Eye is the opposite of the analytical aspect above. Good here means that our mind is uncluttered by preoccupation, relaxed and open. It’s more about a letting go—of thinking, of preconceived notions, of labeling what we see. It’s about seeing clearly without filters and biases, it’s about allowing ourselves to be completely present and open to the moment, to feel the image—to re-present reality through the lens of our unique and pure perception. It’s an internal, intuitive, fearless kind of seeing. It’s a form of self-forgetting; it feels like flow. Photography approached in this way borders on spiritual practice, and images created in this space are the ones that resonate most with the viewer.

The Good Eye is a muscle we can build like any other. The fact that we have the camera now always in our pocket is an advantage if used rightly—to tune in rather than tune out—as a practice it is incredibly enlivening.

The ‘Upside of Exile’… take 2

purplegrowthI wrote a post entitled ‘The Upside of Exile’ back in October, prompted by an article in the NY Times on the value of leaving the comforts of the place we call ‘home’— giving up former identities, leaving much of what we hold near and dear, moving out of our comfort zones—in the service of renewal and reinvention. I stressed the connection between this notion of exile and our ability to have ‘fresh eyes’  (previous post)—to see things anew, to be awake and alive, to have fresh perspectives. The post was also very personal as I had recently decided to ‘exile’ myself to a new home in Mexico—exciting on the one hand but not without plenty of questioning and self doubt.

Seven months later I can speak to another, more profound and somewhat ironic upside of exile: a deeper sense of home. Once all the dust and chaos of relocation settle and the initial excitement and fun of everything being new and different gives way to routine as it inevitably does; you find truth in the saying ‘Anywhere you go, there you are.’ Through the process of rebuilding your life in a new place you discover what aspects of your experience are a function of where you are and what aspects are with you no matter where you go. And that’s when the real work of renewal begins; the opportunity to shed old ways of being that no longer serve you; to learn how to be self reliant—not depending on outer circumstances for a sense of security, but most importantly you learn how to feel at home within yourself no matter where you are. That’s hugely empowering.

Many friends, old and new, have talked about the courage it must have taken to make this move. Up until recently it didn’t feel courageous, rather that I was stumbling along. Now it does feel a bit more like courage, aptly framed by this quote I recently came across: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”–Ambrose Redmoon

Aesthetic Arrest

lilyfaceI love this term—’Aesthetic Arrest’. It best describes the feeling we have when in the presence of a work of art, or any object of beauty, that has that ‘wow’ quality, that stops us in our tracks. We feel somehow altered by the encounter, taken outside of ourselves, elevated somehow. Robert Rye best expresses it here: “The contemplative instant at which (an artwork) is appreciated by the mind, which has been arrested by its wholeness, and fascinated by its harmony, is the luminous, silent stasis of aesthetic pleasure.”

I’ve always pondered what, if any, is the mysterious ‘recipe’ for creating work that resonates in this way. It’s a bit of an elusive thing, very much the result of letting go and really leaning in to the process of making art. Intention is just the jumping off point. ‘Rules’ tend to get in the way. Yet there are some aspects that ‘arresting’ works share. Sir Thomas Aquinas does a pretty good job of getting close with these suggested attributes for beauty: WHOLENESS (integitas)—the unity of the whole, HARMONY (consonantia)—balance, fitness, symmetry, rhythm of structure, and RADIANCE (quidditas)—’thingness’—a unique product of your thinking. I like this framework because it doesn’t imply rules, rather useful criteria that can be applied to any creation, visual or otherwise—anything in existence, whether man, woman or nature made. It speaks to the soul of a thing; it allows for the inexplicable….yet gives us a standard to aspire to.

When was the last time you were arrested?

What is Your Ikigai?

cherryblossomsI first came across this term a couple years ago in a TED talk by Dan Buettner on “Blue Zones”—communities (there are 4 in the world) whose elders live with vim and vigor to record setting ages. Okinawa is one of them. Ikigai proved to be one of the core factors contributing to life expectancy. It’s one of those words, often found in other languages, that sum up an idea requiring much explanation in our own. Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an Ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s Ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life—Passion, Purpose, and Fulfillment. It could be as simple as caring for a grandchild. It’s what makes us get out of bed each day.  Here in this country seems everyone’s looking for  their Ikigai. People are in search of themselves—their ‘Mojo’—unlike any previous point in history. Where did it go? Those that know their Ikigai don’t miss a beat when asked what it is—who wouldn’t want that feeling?!  Here’s the good news:  Creativity leads us there by tolerating uncertainty, opening to wonder and joy, becoming fully present, letting go, trusting the process, tuning in to intuition, allowing for the new and unexpected and opening to grace. Have you lost your Ikigai? Do you know where to find it?

Have you used up your future?

A few years ago, as I was heading into a period of sabbatical, soul searching and reinvention, I found myself feeling very lost and a little unhinged…..and yet a little excited at the same time.  I realized I had left behind so much that had identified and grounded me to that point—my career, home, friends, lifestyle—in order to create some space to explore new directions.  The words ‘lose yourself to find yourself’ resonated daily in my head. The ‘losing yourself’ part isn’t easy; much of it involves dis-identifying with so much comfort and ease….why would we choose that? In need of some guidance I reached out to an advisor of sorts–a spiritual ‘coach’ more or less. As I was grumbling about my career winding down, my empty nest, my dissatisfaction with just about everything in my life at that point—framing it all as some sort of failure on my part, he laughed. He said “Elizabeth, you haven’t failed at anything. That’s the problem…..you succeeded at all of it. You simply used up your future.”

Wow. That simple shift in perspective, that I had fulfilled my vision for my life up until that point and I simply needed a new script to follow…felt so empowering and relieving somehow. By choosing to operate from a place of abundance rather than lack changed my inner dialogue. It’s simply the ebb and flow of life. To choose to bloom again is not always the easiest choice….but it’s far richer and enlivening than staying tight within the bud.

Just Because…

Saccowatt Valentine….a week late.

Life works…

This is in the ‘as good as it gets’ category in the life of a freelance photographer. The very personal image on the right is, simply, my back porch shot on a rainy morning. Rain and mist offer wonderful visual opportunities for capturing evocative images. This one found it’s way to a much bigger audience, ending up as the cover to bestselling author Nicholas Sparks’ latest novel, shown on the right.

The Camera

I apologize for the lapse in my posting. I’ll spare you the reasons; hopefully some of them will become evident as I pick up this thread again. And thank you to all who have been so encouraging for me to continue (you know who you are!). Most recently I’ve been collaborating on a series of botanical images for a new website. Our challenge has been to bring a fresh set of eyes to these oft photographed elements. What is the essence of the thing? How do we reveal it? It’s a practice.

Dorothea Lange put it best: “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

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