prelude to a photowalk

March 25th, 2012

I’ve been planning a photowalk through the temple, which will be this Saturday. There’s a Zen simplicity to the concept of photowalking, and when people have asked questions about it, I tend to keep that simplicity: we will walk, and while we walk, we will take photos.

Its connection to Buddhism is inspired by some current movement of contemplative photography, called “miksang” by Tibetan Buddhists, based on the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and carried on by contemporary photographers like Michael Wood and Andy Carr. With less than a week to go, I’m still deciding how much talking to do–how many words to use before we take our cameras to the streets, how explicitly to unpack the connection between photography and meditation, how much that discussion will help people approach the walk with the meditative mind rather than the picky everyday monkey mind.

As the Buddha taught, our experience with the world comes through what he called the five skandhas–form, feeling, thought, impulse and consciousness. Our minds create these connections, but then our monkey minds insist that they didn’t create anything.

Traditional photography often has to retrofit the skandhas–to make the form fit the consciousness. The photographer decides on a statement of consciousness: “People want to buy this outfit” or “Everyone was happy at this wedding,” then arranges the form (people and things) to support that claim, regardless of whether there are elements that might point to a different awareness.

And that might be a temptation in a photowalk as well, perhaps especially one in Detroit. If we started with the consciousness that “Detroit is a wasteland,” we could choose to walk a route that specifically took in forms to support that. On the other hand, if we took the consciousness “Detroit is an exciting center of art and culture,” we could choose to support that too.

But I don’t think either one of those is the way to go. Many of us meditate on the question, “What is this?” With each moment, we observe–thinking, feeling, agitation, relaxation, breathing in, breathing out. The contemplative photographer uses a lens to ask the question, “What do I see?” rather than to choose and spell out an answer. You have to trust that whatever you see–darkness or light, hard or soft, rough or smooth, rich or poor–will be beautiful in its own way.

Brick Alley, Eastern Market, Detroit
Eastern Market alley, Detroit Michigan, May 2011

Sacred Alley, Pushkar, Rajasthan
Dargah Bazaar alley, Ajmer Rajasthan, September 2009

One Response to “prelude to a photowalk”

  1. Elizabeth Lawrence says:

    So great you came up with this I’m really excited! Love the blog, can’t wait to see you.

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