When Inner and Outer World Become One

En strålende dag i vinterfjellet
Artist and creative individuals frequently talk about the experience of losing themselves in the work at hand, being fully in tune with the process, with the heighten sense of being completely focused – often emerging hours later as if in a trance. I know this from myself, and I also know that whenever I emerge from such a trance like state of mind after having worked hard during a photo session, I have been able to capture some great images. I can’t say which picture is going to be the good one – as some photographers immediately are able to – but I know that within the batch of photos from the shoot there is bound to be some goods one. This trance like state of mind, when I lose myself, is for me the ultimate level of creativity, when everything can happen and I am not bound by my own preconceived ideas or thoughts.

I often think of it as being in a tunnel, where all kinds of things can happen when I am in this tunnel until I finally emerge onto the other side. I wrote about this in the post «Tunnel Vision» quite some time ago. And it does resemble some of the ideas I wrote about the contemplative approach to photography in the post «Different Perspective», where I stated that contemplative photography in essence is about how to fully connect with the visual richness of our ordinary, daily experience.

Thus there is a duality to this process. It’s two worlds coming together – the outside world and the inside world. We perceive and react to what we see, and then bring our inner self and spirit into the equation, almost as if in a dialectic process. In this very concentrated process we focus deeply on a single task, and at the same time something opens, deepens and widens. We are fully absorbed and present to the activity and the moment, to the exclusion of other elements in our lives. But we are also equally attentive to ourselves; our responses, our impulses, and our creative interaction with the medium.

The late and great photographer Henry Cartier-Bresson has aptly described photographic seeing as having one eye turned outward and one eye turned inward. When the two images converge, that’s the moment for capturing the photograph. In his acclaimed book «The Decisive Moment» he writes: I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between the two worlds – the one inside of us and the one outside of us. As a result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.


103 thoughts on “When Inner and Outer World Become One

  1. I’m with you all the way through on this one! Having been working on a serious painting for the past three weeks, it seems that i stay in that dream fog!

    I find myself questioning myself more when I take images, thanks to you. I realize that I am either trying to capture the light/dark drama or capture a special moment. Thanks for making me think more about ‘why’ i want to take the photos! z

  2. The visual richness of the ordiinary world around us begins to jump out at you once you start looking, and realizing what is right there in front of your eyes; when you’ve made the connection.

  3. Stunning photo. I like how it plays with what you’re saying about the inner and outer worlds. I’ll try to remember that the next time I get lost in what I’m doing, though I think in those moments I am in both places without being very grounded in either. I kind of feel like I’m channeling somethiing bigger than myself. I love getting lost in it like that. Wishing you many happy moments in that here/there place.

  4. Another very interesting article Otto. I struggle with trying to understand, articulate and rationalise the creative process as it pertains to my kind of photography and what happens when I create a good photograph. I do get totally absorbed, tuned into the rapidly changing light on the landscape, biding my time and often come off the beach or the cliff knowing when I’ve hit the shutter at the right moment but here I’m totally focused on the outer world as you describe it aren’t I? I can control nothing in this environment. All I control is how I set the camera and when I press the sutter. I guess that’s my inner world, framing the shot, waiting for the moment, seeing it and capturing it and thus creating the picture I want to take. Maybe I don’t give this inner world enough credit. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

    1. I think you describe exactly that state of mind when inner and outer world become one, even if you don’t feel it consciously. When you tune into the light or totally focus on the world, it’s the inner you that makes this connection. You get lost in the moment and the process, and that’s what it’s all about.

  5. Very interesting, Otto. Whatever it is we choose for a vehicle of our self-expression we would need to bare ourselves in order for it to come alive. Learning the craft is half the battle.

  6. I warm to your words. There is a sense in which the outside is within and the within on the outside – no dualism. For too long we have objectified the world around us distancing ourselves from it and treating it as a “thing.” But as you say, when we unite with “it” we pour ourselves in to “it” and “it” pours itself in to us. I also love what you say about being lost in creativity. Have you noticed too that in spite the hard work, you’re not tired, in fact you’re powerfully energized? Thanks for a great post.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. As for being energized, I actually feel quite depleted after having been engaged heavily in the creative process. But I still feel very excited afterwards.

  7. The merge of the outer world and our inner world is so exquisitely described here. I really enjoyed this entry, and looking through your website as well!

    1. Unfortunately «The Decisive Moment» is a collectors item and hard to get hold of, but the book «The Mind´s Eye» is a collection of thoughts and reflections by Cartier-Bresson. Recommended reading.

  8. An absolutely stonker of a post Otto, really informative and I ma nodding in agreement with what you have written. I am so glad to be following you blog as it enables my to think why and at times how I take photographs. Inspirational and a wonderful photograph.!

  9. Another excellent post Otto. I find myself in 2 very different states of mind during the creative process. There’s the process and state I’m in when out photographing and creating an image. For me this is a very calm, introspective time as I look at the world and decide how I want to capture and convey it. Then there’s the creative process when I’m in front of the computer post processing my images which, I fear, sometimes does put me in a trance like state as determine how I want the finished image to look.

    1. Despite the differences you feel when shooting compared to post processing, it still seems to me like your inner and outer world is connected on both occasions. And it reflects in your photographs.

  10. The tunnel is my favorite place in my mind, I so love this post! The photo of inner/outer world could not be more perfect and arresting at first glance. You always put into words so beautifully this process of creativity, thanks Otto!

  11. Excellent exploration! I love how your photo exemplifies your theme: showing how the inner and outer world converge. Your description of getting in the “zone” when practicing art is on target! Love that you brought in Cartier-Bresson idea of an inward-turned eye and an outward-turned eye. Art and human engagement in something beyond ourselves really bring this experience home. Thanks for your in-depth thinking on this.

    1. I think this engagement in something beyond ourselves – as you say – is crucial for the creative process. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Renee.

  12. Very tranquil photo and wonderful words.

    Thank you for your kind words about my photographs. I’ve been using the blog to show some of the fun stuff I’ve shot. A break from the more serious work I did for my book about atomic bomb survivors and the exhibitions. I’m preparing for an exhibition of portraits opening at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum in a couple of months. The blog has been a good escape for a couple of moments to show less serious photos.

    Looking forward to seeng more of your photos in 2013.


  13. Wonderful post, Otto – you put your finger that complex “artist moment” exactly – “We perceive and react to what we see, and then bring our inner self and spirit into the equation, almost as if in a dialectic process.” So well said! The Cartier-Bresson quote is apropos; I haven’t read his book in years though I carry his advice in my head: now I’m inspired to return to it again. Thank you for such a thoughtful examination of the creative process.

  14. Always beautiful words of wisdom you share from your heart. This balance you write about reminds me of the art of practicing yoga…finding balance by focusing our mind inward & being untuned with our bodies with every pose. You thread your posts well with your previous thoughts. Peace to you in 2013 ❤

    1. I think it has some similarities to yoga and Eastern philosophy in general, although I tried to understand the creative process out of my own experience and of course adding knowledge from whatever I read about creativity or life for that matter.

  15. That sounds like an intense experience that I wouldn’t know, but I’m sure comes with being a great photographer such as yourself 🙂

    1. I don’t think this experience has anything to do with being great or not, but with your engagement in the creative process. In a way you could say engagement and eagerness to be one with the process is what creates greatness – not the other way around. Thank you for the nice comment.

  16. I love the quote from Henry Cartier-Bresson. He describes the essence of what it means to be fully alive–conscious living. The balance in which we function embracing the joy in what we do, losing ourselves in our work or play(or both) and tuning out the distraction and noise to give our full attention to what we’re dong. I don’t claim to do this all the time, or even often, but when i do I know it’s where I want to be! I love to get lost in creative thinking or expression. You have expressed that joy so well, Otto.

    1. This is a very thoughtful comment, Debra, and, like you, I believe most of us are not able to be this alive all the time as much as it is what we want to be. Thank you.

  17. This is so true. The funny thing is, just the act of taking the photo can give me this experience, whether or not my photos actually come out as I hope they will. I still experienced the moment. (Does that make sense? lol) Great post and beautiful photo! Have a great weekend!

    1. It does make sense. Often we are too preoccupied with the final product, while it’s actually process of creating that is important. Thank you for your comment, Barbara.

  18. Inspiring photo, Otto! Thanks again for the wonderful essay on artistic creativity and being lost in the tunnel. It is always amazing when the worlds come together in that special way.

  19. Stunning images, and another very wise post. I love the quote from Henry Cartier-Bresson. I know that feeling. of being in a trance-like state. You’re right. That’s usually when we produce our best stuff.

  20. Your post reminded me of one of my favorite Rumi poems, translated by Coleman Barks:
    The Milk of Millennia

    I am part of the load
    Not rightly balanced
    I drop off in the grass,
    like the old Cave-sleepers, to browse
    wherever I fall.

    For hundreds of thousands of years I have been dust-grains
    floating and flying in the will of the air,
    often forgetting ever being
    in that state, but in sleep
    I migrate back. I spring loose
    from the four-branched, time-and-space cross,
    this waiting room.

    I walk into a huge pasture
    I nurse the milk of millennia

    Everyone does this in different ways.
    Knowing that conscious decisions
    and personal memory
    are much too small a place to live,
    every human being streams at night
    into the loving nowhere, or during the day,
    in some absorbing work.

  21. Thanks for putting words to the way I work too – the proces in the “tunnel” is what captures me – and I often get surprised – and captured again! – when I am looking at the (often many) photos, that I have brought home.

    1. I am sure many different artists experience this moment of getting lost and feeling connected with the inner and outer world. Thanks for your comment, Carla.

  22. “This trance like state of mind, when I lose myself, is for me the ultimate level of creativity” Brilliant. I have the same experience with writing… Being in the zone as it were. That photo is fabulous. 😉

  23. When I am out in nature taking photographs, I can become so immersed that I am oblivious to everything else around me. It is my form of meditation and much needed therapy. I’m not able to meditate in the way most people are familiar with, but meditation takes many forms. It’s just that my form of meditation often includes a camera.
    Great post, Otto!

  24. When the inside and outside world collide, magical images and experiences are created. Reading your post makes me see a world that I often not see or failed to see. It makes me realize the many things I need to savor in this lifetime. I wish one day I got to do even a fraction of your adventures. have a great weekend.

  25. You have expressed this perfectly, Otto….when the outer and inner eyes converge is so magical and such a wonderful feeling…that I have a hard time resurfacing…thanks for the thought provoking post!

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