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The Now of Photography

February 8, 2010

Advanced Photo Spring 2010

This is the first semester of my 1 day a week, 5 hour Advanced Photo class. I feel very optimistic about it because the caliber of the students is outstanding. I know that all students have promise, but there is a certain gestation period necessary to “get it”. I’ve had students that I originally saw as “just passing through” come to see me years later with energy, excitement and talent for their life in photography. My current ART 141 students either already know who they are (I have two professionals in the group), or they are primed to become something. This class includes several previous students who have already shown me their potential. For an example of how ready my crew is, this week, due to a conflict in schedules, I have a field trip and a model planned for over 7 hours of class time. After giving everybody the choice of which 5 hour slot to attend, they all want to go for as much as is offered.

Here’s some back-story. The last couple of semesters I’ve been setting Advanced Photography class time aside for mindfulness practice. The first semester, we sat for 5 minutes or so at the beginning of every class. Students liked it so much that at the end of the semester they wanted to finish with a meditation. Chock one up for the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education.

Last semester, we did the same contemplative exercises with the unexpected outcome of several, if not most, of the Advanced students getting blocked. Non-productivity became the norm. Even though everyone appreciated the sitting practice, only one or two students were making good work. My Basic Photo class (including many of my current Advanced students) was more interesting. I don’t want to blame meditation with neutralizing my student’s creative energy. I have to find a way to integrate self-awareness into the whole class period.

So, here’s the rub. I’ve used the Tao of Photography by Gross and Shapiro for years. I’m beginning to see that their vision of the Taoist yin and yang is too compartmentalized. The first paragraph of Phillip Gross’ Introduction refers to “the perfect Yin and the perfect Yang” as if there were an imperfect yin and yang. Part One of the main text continues with references to “the unliberated photographer” and his or her “constricted awareness”. Certainly, our thought processes are prone to making such distinctions and we are often meticulous in finding our own short comings. I simply want students to see these concepts as ego constructs that don’t engage a truly conscious experience of the world. We all have egos, I just don’t believe mine, or most other egos I’ve been in contact with.

I want students to continue reading the Tao of Photography. There is lots of inspiration inside. I also want students to experience the “Now” of photography. The “Now” of photography is based on openness to what is happening in the present. Rather than sitting with a contemplative mind for several minutes each class, it would be enlightening to work throughout class with an occasional awareness of what our five other senses are telling us. Eyes, ears, nose, taste and touch are the channels to our experience of each moment. Our mind mostly torments us with memories and projections of past and future . We have to give attention to our bodies to become conscious of the present.

I know our minds provide a constant commentary. Let’s interject some real observations into our ongoing stream of consciousness. For example, you’re sitting in class and I’m talking about Gustave Le Gray (Page 14 in How to Read a Photograph) and you’re thinking that I told you to let go of your fascination with the past. Now I’m talking about a guy from 1857. Don’t pull out your cell phone and text your friend to complain. Consider your response to my presentation on Mr. Le Gray.¬† If you are not open, is it some preconception you may have? Do you object to me and Mr. Le Gray because your chair is too hard? Do you not like what you see in his photographs? Can you consider Le Gray a creative precedent to what you do? Make a statement to the class or tell me about your perceptions. Engage yourself with what is happening around you. Make an effort to open up. Your observations may help me be a better teacher and bring Le Gray into the present.

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