Tunnel Vision

When we engage in the creative process – if we are lucky or have experienced how to do it – we enter a state of mindful connection with the subject we are photographing or with the situation in which we submerge ourselves into with the intention to photograph. It’s like a breaking point when it happens. Suddenly everything seems to come forward, things happen almost naturally and very brightly. And your own awareness reached a level that almost surprises yourself. You become a participant more than a spectator.

When this happened for me first time, I was studying in New York, and I went down to cover the Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown. Suddenly I lost myself in the event. I became one with whatever happened on the street, and my camera became an extension of my senses. In a way it was as if the camera became my seventh sense. My reactions were canalized through the camera – both ways. I literally got so engaged that I lost track of everything but the celebration in the streets – even myself. I was no longer in control of myself, but was lead around by the eventful activities happening all over Chinatown.

The result – photographically speaking – was different than anything else I had done up till then. Despite the fact that I was completely unconscious during the photographic process; the pictures were fully loaded with my soul and at the same time showing the event with a detachment that made them interesting for others, too.

In his The Widening Stream, the photographer, teacher and writer David Ulrich says: «In spite of our conditions to the contrary, we must try to give our full attention in the process. We strive to be present, to stay in touch with the relationship between our inner energies, those arising from our bodies, mind, and feelings, and the work itself. As we begin, it feels flat and lifeless. Something is missing. As we continue and try to bring a quality of attention to both ourselves and the activity at hand, something begins to open, a fluidity emerges, and a deepening connection to the process begins to take place. We enter the flow».

That’s exactly how it felt back then in Chinatown. I started out photographing without any focus, I didn’t get involved and I felt I wasn’t able to make anything with my photographs. I was rather thinking about my own photography – and rather badly so – instead of putting my attention to what was happening around me. I was about to give up. But I still kept shooting. And then suddenly something changed. I entered the flow as Ulrich put or got the groove as a jazz musician would say. I got involved. Instead of focusing on myself, I started to focus outward. I actually started to focus in the moment. It was all now in this very moment. I got a sense of timelessness, a sense of vital energy and a sense of freedom. Everything – life, myself, the event, the universe – felt important.

Again according to Ulrich: «Like the moment in athletics when endorphins are released, entering the stream of creativity vitalizes us with a sharp inner clarity and buoyant feeling for ourselves and our activity. We feel a spacious inner joy, a vibrant inner stream, which as it begins to flow, attract more of the same much like a river slowly widens its course. Yet, to avoid dispersal of these energies, we must contain them, nurture them, and focus them. Again, as in athletics, the great pay-off of entering the zone, the flow, can only take place through energies that are connected in a desired direction».

For me that afternoon in Chinatown was a leaf turner. It changed my way of photographing, brought my soul into the creative process for the first time. And I learned that I could enter the zone, the flow or get the groove when I was photographing – even when I started out feeling disconnected. Still today my intention is the same whenever I go out shooting. Find that breaking point and loose myself. Back then what happened to me felt like being absorbed by a tunnel and spit out three or four hours later, completely wasted, but intensely happy. And that’s always how I have pictured that part of the process. Entering the tunnel. The pictures from the Chinese New Year celebration probably don’t hold up today, but personally I have a special relationship to them. They showed me how to connect with my creative well in the moment of photographing.

22 thoughts on “Tunnel Vision

  1. First of all, the photograph at the top of your post is wonderful. The post itself verbally paints a picture of the creative process that takes hold once you are in the flow. Great post.

  2. Your post seems to imply that entering the flow requires duration —
    It makes me wonder if, because I do very short snatches of photography at a time, that I am missing something. If I were to spend more time during a session I might enter into another dimension — I wonder.

  3. This is great, and I think the one most important thing to try and master in any creative process. Get out of you own way and let instinct and spirit take over.
    I experienced that a few times, and just the other day when the light was amazing, frost on the ground and steam rising from the water and fields. I felt like a kid in the candy store. I never had so much fun photographing because I felt I was seeing everything for the first time.
    Very worth the effort to find.
    Great post. I am hungary for more on this subject.

  4. Thank you everybody for the fantastic feedback. It’s really encouraging for any blogger.

    Do we have to stay with the moment or situation a long time to get into the tunnel? I can’t say for everybody, but generally, yes, I think we need to spend more time when we are shooting. We need to be patient. Most of us have a tendency to quit before the “real” thing has happened. Sometimes I get sucked up by the tunnel almost immediately, but that’s rare, and sometimes it can take a whole day before it happens. And once I am in there, I don’t want to get out again before I almost physically can’t be there any more.

  5. You have verbalized what I experience on so many occasions perfectly. That feeling of oneness where nothing else exists around me is a truly magic experience. And your image holds up today just fine.

  6. That “moment”, and the work it can produce are the manna that feeds any artist! Great post!

  7. Let me just add that you don’t need to chase the “tunnel”. It works the same way as with most things in the creative process. It will have to come by itself. If you chase it, it’s just gonna slip away. And it’s not the only way to get connected to your creative well, either, so let’s not hype it too much. As long as you are creating you are good. To find the tunnel, though, there is only one thing to do – as with anything creatively. Do the work. You really have to put in the effort. The time and the work. As a matter of fact we should all be out photographing instead of reading or writing on this blog, but I won’t say it loud since it’s so fun having you guys participating here and it’s so fun with all the interaction. And immensely inspirational. Have fun out there!

  8. I have experienced this “tunnel vision” as well. Usually when I start to take photo I’m deep concentrate on what I’m doing. Framing in the correct way, checking exposure etc. The left side of my brain has the control. Then without any premonitory sign something happen and I only shoot my subject. The right side has the control. And is the moment when the good photos arrive.
    It happens to me as well when I’m drawing (I’m taking lessons by now, just a beginner) after some time I do not think which color I have to choice: I just choice. And it works. You explain it very well, thanks. And great photo!

  9. “A sense of timelessness, a sense of vital energy and a sense of freedom . . . ” sums it all up so beautifully! Recognition of the experience becoming almost more acute on leaving the experience behind. On a personal note, I find it easier coming home afterwards to an empty house. The thread of excitement lingers in that delicious cone of silence which I find impossible to translate – mainly because I do not wish to have to translate it . . .

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