I’ve recently been blogging on the processes of seeing and expressing a vision through photography. See Ways of Seeing (revisited) and Photography and Zen. Related to the thoughts in these books is Elina Brotherus’s reflections on her own photographic process, where she talks about creating first and analysing later.
Miksang photography is based on Eastern (specifically Tibetan) thought and the contemplative practices that include meditation. In the past I’ve read material based on similar principles but applied to creativity in the field of music, including improvisation. I read Michael Wood’s book, Opening the good eye: a path to true seeing (the literal translation of Miksang is ‘opening the good eye’.) to discover more.
The purpose of this post is to reflect on how the practice of Miksang might relate to the development of my own photography practice.
Like many things, Miksang is easier said than done – it is the practice that is challenging, not the conceptual understanding. In essence it involves:
- Being open and receptive to what we see around us, without the intrusion of our learned filters that we use to judge before we see. So seeing with a child’s eye or like it is the first time (echoes in music – the attention and pleasure an absolute beginner experiences when first making sounds).
- Once we’ve opened ourselves, staying open and receptive to see the authentic thing, holding back the learned habits of categorising and evaluating. This is difficult, it is our survival instinct to do this (will something harm me, can I eat it, can I use it) and our education processes reinforce this instinct; habits developed over our life-times.
- In our photography, being able to capture the authentic thing based on our clear vision of it. As well as understanding the camera as a tool, this would also include what we do to an image in post-processing; any treatment should be true to our vision of the subject (so most likely minimal).
This is not something you ‘get’ from reading a book, it is something that requires dedicated practice. As well as the general benefits from meditative practices in our busy world, I envisage benefits to the practice of art photography:
- It helps us to get out of our own way and express our own unique vision (the art from within), without conscious reference to what we have seen in the work of others or learned about the technical aspects of photography. Those things shape our intuition and natural responses, but do not need to be actively contemplated when creating – just as a good guitarist is unlikely to actively consider musical scales when improvising; they create a unique distinctive sound from within.
- Having a solid picture in our mind’s eye of our original, clear vision of the subject allows us to be consistent with that as we capture, process and present our images. They become authentic and not a ‘pastiche of what has gone before’.
- Like Brotherus we can analyse after creation – I’m not sure that this aspect would be relevant to the practice of Miksang, which I understand is based on the premise that nature is infinitely creative and what we need to do is find a way of expressing this. However, it is useful to consider what has influenced us during the course of academic study as well as for the purpose of hopefully obtaining a degree certification, which of course brings no guarantee alone that we will produce authentic, worthwhile work.
Miksang.com [website]. Available from: http://www.miksang.com [accessed 30.10.16]
Wood M (2016). Opening the good eye: a path to true seeing. Miksang Publications, Colorado.