Book Review - The Practice of Contemplative Photography

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by olli, May 25, 2011.

  1. olli

    olli Super Moderator Emeritus

    Sep 28, 2010
    Metro Manila
    Real Name:

    I ordered this book, The Practice of Contemplative Photography - Seeing the World With Fresh Eyes, while browsing Amazon for something else entirely having been intrigued by the idea behind it.

    Andy Karr is a writer, photographer and Buddhist teacher while Michael Wood is a professional photographer and founder and director of the Miksang Institute for Contemplative Photography. If the idea of Zen photography is forming in your mind at this point you are on the right lines.

    Miksang is a Tibetan word with the sense of 'good eye' and both the Institute and this book attempt to bring principles of the Buddhist meditation tradition to bear on the practice of photography.

    In essence the practice of contemplative photography is about learning to recognise what they call 'the flash of perception' - a vision of the world free of filters, narratives and conceptual frameworks - and to express that perception photographically.

    The book describes this philosophy and offers a series of thematic assignments on, for example, texture, space or light. The authors don't push the Buddhist origin of their thinking, only referring to it in the Epilogue. Instead, they approach contemplative photography with reference to some of the great photographers of the twentieth century whose work and writings ultimately harmonise with their own vision.

    There are also plenty of photographs, mostly taken by the authors, illustrating the different dimensions of contemplative photography. There is some technical discussion of cameras and camera settings but this is kept to a minimum.

    Personally, I'm finding the book very enlightening and though provoking, and have now started working through the assignments. Thankfully, the Miksang Institute website gives a very clear idea of what the authors mean by contemplative photography so it's possible to get an idea of what the book is about before buying.

    I also discovered while reading about Miksang that Paul Giguere, who recently joined Serious compacts as a reviewer, has done the Miksang course and interviewed Michael Wood for his Thoughts on Photography podcast series. That podcast is still available and provides an excellent introduction to the book.

    If you come away from the Miksang website or Paul's interview with Michael Wood wanting to know more the book is currently available from <a href=""></a>" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /> and from <a href=""></a>[img]" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />.

    [I]The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World With Fresh Eyes[/I] by Andy Karr and Michael Wood (Shambhala Press 2011)
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  2. Pelao

    Pelao SC All-Pro

    Jul 11, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    Real Name:
    Hi Olli

    Thanks for posting this, although maybe not - I love photography books and have a backlog...
    I particularly enjoy books with assignments, as this helps me develop new perspectives and techniques.

    Two books with similar themes:

    Zen and the Magic of Photography, Wayne Rowe
    (Subtitle: Learning to See and to Be through Photography)

    The Tao of Photography, Philippe Gross and SI Shapiro
    (Subtitle: Seeing Beyond Seeing)
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  3. TEBnewyork

    TEBnewyork SC Rookie

    Aug 6, 2010
    Thanks for posting this. I took a class called Roll a Day where you needed to shoot the equiv. of a roll a day. The required reading for day one was Zen in the Art of Archery. Sounds like my instructor and this author think along the same lines. Thanks for posting this. I will have a look at the book.
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  4. LisaO

    LisaO SC Regular

    Jul 11, 2010
    I like the idea of photographic philosophy as opposed to so much photo related material is all technical info. I ordered the book, thanks for the info.
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  5. olli

    olli Super Moderator Emeritus

    Sep 28, 2010
    Metro Manila
    Real Name:
    I noticed these too when I was browsing but went with the reviewed book because I was able to find out more about it before buying. The Tao book also looked interesting though so it might be next.

    Look forward to knowing what you think of it.

    It's interesting that the founder of this particular meditation tradition, Chögyam Trungpa, was also practised archery and helped develop the kyudo tradition in the West.
  6. Jeff Damron

    Jeff Damron SC Regular

    Sep 2, 2010
    Kentucky, USA
    I stumbled upon this book at Barnes & Noble and bought it. I have read it, though I haven't done the exercises yet. I think just reading it has influenced my photography, even though most of my pictures end up in black and white. The simplicity of the approach (though not simple to master as it really involves un-learning a lot of what most of us do with our cameras) and the direct "equivalents" that are the goal are refreshing and very attractive to me. An excellent recommendation!
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  7. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    Jul 6, 2010
    So basically ignoring the iconographic zeitgeist then?
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  8. madmaxmedia

    madmaxmedia SC Veteran

    Nov 10, 2010
    Los Angeles
    Here is another related book. I own it, but haven't read enough to have any commentary on it (there are a lot of Amazon reviews though). It is not specifically about photography, but the author is a photographer and that is his main mode of expression in this book-

    The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life by John Daido Loori
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  9. wt21

    wt21 SC Hall of Famer

    Aug 15, 2010
    I like The War of Art, but I haven't read any of the "Zen" type books.

    I tried listening to the linked podcast, but found they weren't saying anything (shoot what you see. Don't bring your preconceived notions to the photo). I stopped listening after 20 minutes. Maybe I'll try to find the book in a library before committing to purchasing it.
  10. Pelao

    Pelao SC All-Pro

    Jul 11, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    Real Name:
    Me too. Cool book.