What inspired you initially to engage in contemplative photography?
One particularly green day in early summer, I just started playing around with the camera on my phone taking pictures of how the light danced on and through different shaped leaves in my garden. I have always enjoyed photography, especially since I took my grandfather’s old 35mm camera with me when I took my first trip around Europe, but that camera somehow got misplaced amidst all the moves since, and I got busy with other things. The good thing about cameras in the phones these days is that you can easily have a camera with you all the time. I became fascinated with color and started to notice color more and more wherever I went. I made different series of photos with just one main color that dominated each image—blue, red, yellow, green, orange or purple. A friend who had noticed my photos was reading The Practice of Contemplative Photography at the time and thought it would resonate with me, which it did. So, I ordered it straight away and started practicing the exercises on the Seeingfresh website.
In retrospect, I think I had been searching for a way to re-awaken my creativity that was in alignment with the main focus of my life. I was looking for a way to be creative that would help me to cultivate mindfulness and awareness in my ordinary everydayness, something that would not distract me but help bring me closer towards seeing things as they really are.
Also, I think I was looking for something that would help get me moving and walking around! I spend a lot of time sitting these days, either studying and meditating, or more often at my computer or in a plane. As is true for most people these days, I don’t have a lot of time or at least I think I don’t. What is wonderful about photography is that it is an art form that doesn’t have to take a phenomenal amount of time. All it takes is one click!
What does contemplative photography mean to you? How often do you practice it?
I am passionate about it! As well as helping me to bring mindfulness and awareness into my everyday life, it is also a lot of fun. Sometimes, people may hear the word “contemplative” and associate it with something very somber, serious or humorless. This is not at all the case. Seeing things freshly can be incredibly joyful and playful. It is so exciting to discover what we haven’t seen before, but that is actually right here at every moment, right in front of our eyes. I always hope that this experience translates to whoever sees the final photographs, that they can also experience that same sense of freshness, space, openness, or clarity, where the ordinary thinking mind stops, even if just for a moment.
In terms of how often I practice, the circumstances of my life don’t lend themselves to being able to have a regular daily routine as each day tends to be different and I am often traveling. So, I have started keeping my camera with me all the time (I’ve upgraded from my phone!), and I try to practice this way of seeing all the time. Trying is not succeeding of course, but the trying—the practice itself—is perhaps the real point. I also have friends who practice and we have had a lot of fun doing contemplative photo walks together. For example, you can meet somewhere in your local town, spend the morning walking and photographing, then stop for a nice lunch out, and after lunch either call it a day or continue.
This is a goofy little video we made of one of our first outings:
Has contemplative photography affected your everyday experiences - if so, in what way?
Yes, it has helped me to be more present and aware of what is actually going on around me, in the world that exists outside of my own head.
What do you find most challenging when doing contemplative photography?
Letting go of expectations—to just go out without any expectation of wanting to “get” a “good” picture, but to just be open to what emerges. I think this is one of the most challenging things about life in general, not to have expectation or hope about getting something that you do want and not to have fear about getting something that you don’t want. Even a small moment of being free of these hopes and fears can be incredibly liberating. I have found that practicing contemplative photography makes me more aware of these tendencies of “wanting” and “not wanting” in my mind, which then makes it easier to notice these habits when they come up in other aspects of my life. Being aware then gives you a choice of whether you want to continue to follow a particular train of thought or not.
Name a few photographers who in your opinion best represent contemplative photography. Are there any websites / blogs you often visit for inspiration? What is your favorite photography album (book)?
Of course, Andy Karr, Michael Wood, Julie DuBose and all the photographers featured in The Practice of Contemplative Photography. I particularly love Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s photographs. There are also many wonderful photographers whose work you can see on the Seeingfresh website and I often visit the site for inspiration.
Then, of course there are the greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson and others, who did not think of themselves as “contemplative photographers,” but who were true masters of “seeing”. There is a fantastic short video about Henri Cartier-Bresson called “The Decisive Moment” which is definitely worth watching:
The works of Vivian Maier and Saul Leiter also captivate me.
Vivian Maier worked as a nanny for 40 years in Chicago and she would walk the streets photographing in her days off. She took more than 100,000 photographs and her work was not discovered until after her death when someone bought what they thought were historical architecture photographs at an auction of an abandoned storage unit. She is now termed a street photographer, but what I find most remarkable about her is how and what she saw:
There is also a film that was made about her that was released last year.
I also love Saul Leiter’s work and his book, Saul Leiter: Early Color. He recently passed away and there is also a lovely film that was made about him called “In No Great Hurry”:
Some of my favorite images of his can be found in the slideshow on these pages:
http://www.howardgreenberg.com/#artists/64 (particularly Through Boards, Snow, Red Umbrella, and Taxi)
He wonderfully said, “Seeing is a neglected enterprise.”
In terms of other websites I visit, I am active on 500px. I try to bring the contemplative approach into more mainstream photography sites in the hopes that more people might connect with and start to try contemplative photography.
What advice / starting points would you give to someone who might be interested to explore contemplative photography?
Just begin! Start playing.
Is there anything else you would like to share on this topic?
No, except to thank Andy Karr & Michael Wood!
Kimberly was born in the United States and graduated from Wesleyan University with High Honors in English and Theater. As she was beginning her career as a professional actor, she met Sogyal Rinpoche in New York City in 1997 and has been studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism under his and other great teachers' guidance ever since. She moved to Europe in 2000 and attended theunique Three Year Retreat at Lerab Ling in France for seven months each year from 2006-2009. As Sogyal Rinpoche's teaching assistant, Kimberly currently travels and supports his teachings around the world. She is one of Rigpa’s senior instructors. In particular, she specializes in teaching meditation and leads meditation retreats each year. She loves the practice of contemplative photography.