Continental Divide at Dawn

Continental Divide at Dawn
Continental Divide at Dawn

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Photography as Meditation


100-year-old Live Oaks at Avery Island, Louisiana
© Rad A. Drew
Have you ever had the feeling that the universe is trying to tell you something, but you’re just not listening? This past month I had a couple of things, seemingly independent occurrences, that I now believe are connected and conspiring to teach me a lesson.

The first of these “events” occurred about a month ago, when I stumbled on a book by Torsten Andreas Hoffman, titled, Photography as Meditation (which I highly recommend, by the way). Now, as someone who has been both a photographer and one who’s practiced meditation on and off since college, the book really caught my attention.

In it, Hoffman makes a connection between meditation and photography, and suggests that both are either intended to or by their nature, require you to be in the present moment. Meditation can be described as the practice of quieting the mind, while photography, in the doing of it, causes us to focus somewhat narrowly on the subject we’re shooting and in many ways helps us end up in that same place of quietude.

On a recent trip to Louisiana, the second “event” occurred. Nancy and I went to Lafayette, Louisiana; she for a three-day metalsmith workshop and I to scout for an upcoming photo tour in and about New Orleans. While she was in her workshop, I was out exploring the marshes, swamps, and bayou country of southwest Louisiana. 

The first day I went out I found that I was chasing an image. I couldn't drop Nancy at her workshop quick enough. I wanted to be on my way. There were pixels waiting to be wrangled. I was hell bent on getting a shot of a shrimp boat, coming in after a long day in the Gulf. I don’t know why; blame it on Forrest Gump, I guess! I wanted that image. I chased that image. I drove to the areas where the shrimp boats should be coming in and I was either too early or too late. I’d learn from a local fisherman that if I just went to this place or that place, I’d be sure to find what I was looking for. I looked and I chased and I ran.

What I found at the end of this first day is that I had burned up a lot of road but I’d taken very few photos, in spite of the fact that I was in some of the most beautiful country I’d ever seen. I had spent my entire day trying to be somewhere else and in so doing, I failed to be in the present moment and aware of the beauty and extraordinary photo opportunities all around me. Sometimes that adage, “Wherever you go, there you are” just isn’t true. I went but I wasn’t there.

That evening I began to reflect on my day’s experience. As I did, it occurred to me that the lesson that began the day I found the book Photography as Meditation, had continued with my day’s chaotic experience. I was being reminded to be still, to watch, to listen, and to feel; to be present; to clear my mind of the clutter of wanting and desiring, and to be still to receive all that was around me. I thought about Hoffman's book and began to realize that this is what he is talking about: this state of quite and receptivity is the place from which creativity flows.


The next day, I set out with a different mindset. I thought about the role of breathing in meditation. One form of meditation is to be still and simply focus on one’s breath as it goes in and out. I began my day being very aware of my breath. I decided on a direction to go, rather than on a destination. While heading in that direction, I stopped, I walked, I ate, I met people – locals and visitors, both – and I had a memorable time. I photographed much more and I found that I was going with the flow of my day more than I was trying to force it to be something other than what it was. I immersed myself in the marsh, I walked under 100-year-old live oak trees, and I saw and photographed birds I’d never seen before, and, without effort, I found myself at the harbor as shrimpers were unloading their catch at sunset.

Thistle, Cameron National Wildlife Refuge, Southwestern Louisiana
© Rad A. Drew

Boat-Tailed Grackle, Cameron National Wildlife Refuge
© Rad A. Drew

Blue-Winged Teal, Cameron National Wildlife Refuge
© Rad A. Drew

Black-Necked Stilt, Cameron National Wildlife Refuge
© Rad A. Drew

Louisiana Marsh
© Rad A. Drew

Miss Shirley, Cameron, LA
© Rad A. Drew

Woolly Bugger Shrimp Boat, Cameron, LA

Jennifer Kay, Cameron, LA
© Rad A. Drew