Zen and the art of Street Photography
Zen. The word means lots of things in 21st Century social culture. To some it is used to scorn someone’s attempts at finding peace amongst the chaos. “That’s not very Zen of you...”. To others, it means something ‘cool’. To many committed Western Buddhists, it’s a discipline too far and the sect of Zen monks are dismissed as practising in a way that isn’t compatible with the real, modern world. I once heard a Buddhist teacher dismiss someone in a story saying “pfffff... sitting over there in the corner like some Zen guy...”. Weird and sad. I left.
Well I agree with those Western Buddhists, and, because of its incompatibility with modern culture, I think ‘Zen’ is made of chocolate.
But what about Street Photography? Why am I bundling them together? Well there are a few recommended disciplines, central to Zen Buddhism, that find their place in the practice and pursuit of Street Photography. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the explosion in Street Photography and the photographers who pursue it, is due partly to the intangible soul food that street shooting provides.
Most directly, the principal of Shoshin is there when you pick up a camera and start to actually look at the world that immediately surrounds you. Shoshin translates as ‘Beginner’s Mind’ (I like to think of it as Child’s Mind). It’s the concept that a beginner sees possibilities while a self perceived expert sees only his way, and his way is the only true way.
When we approach a place or situation with Shoshin we feel alive and excited. We’re fascinated and we see opportunity and possibility all around. Think you’ve never experienced Shoshin? Oh you have :) That first day of your vacation, when you felt the urge to go for a stroll? When the streets and the beach and the pathways were so vivid? So gentle and inviting? When you would pause and look all around you 360? And you felt kinda peaceful? That was Shoshin :) When you feel like you want to live in the place you holiday? You don’t really. What you want is to live in Shoshin.
Let’s come back off vacation and think about your journey to work. (Ouch!) You probably know every inch of it. In fact, you probably don’t even see it any more. The time you spend going to work is probably spent lost in concepts. Thinking and imagining past and future defeats, victories, hopes or fears. In other words, you travel to work lost in things that aren’t actually happening to you. You only think they are.
And here’s where Street Photography and its new friend Zen come in :)
You see Zen Buddhism teaches us that ‘presence’ is the key to peace and that being can only happen in the here and now. If we deal with NOW, the past will float away and the future will arrive with you and find you at peace...etc. (Zen/Buddhism is long road and I don’t got the skills to explain it here)
How better to be here than with a child’s mind? LOOK at the world around you NOW. Don’t just see it, look for beauty! Look for a picture! Set that test for the emerging photographer in you. And a great way to do this, is to put a camera to your eye!
Through the lens we can see our world framed. Framing corners of time and space to preserve them IS photography at its most magical. Discovering an accident of light or the fall of a shadow unplanned by man is to discover the beauty that IS all around you. Finding beauty in that which we may not have previously even seen? That is the essence of Buddhism :)
Now you may not care about Buddhism or peace or calm or any of that and that’s fine. I’m just saying that street photography and setting out to find the wonder and beauty in the world around you will bring you a little peace (like being on vacation!)
Oh and quite importantly, don’t do this with your phone. Use the single use item commonly called a camera. One where you need to put your eye really close to the viewfinder. Maybe it’s just me but I find there’s a magic to this physical act. It’s a one shape story. When you do this, you make a statement to the world around you. You become no longer like them :) You stand apart. You transcend the going to and coming from and waiting for, that we all get lost in. You float above it and you become...a witness. You separate from the madness and instead you observe the madness in all its absurd wonderfulness :) When you stop letting the world ‘happen to you’ and start witnessing the effects the world may be having ‘on’ you, you’re beginning to wake up :)
For Her 2019. (From my own walk to work :) )