When Inner and Outer World Become One

En strålende dag i vinterfjellet
Artists and creative people 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, being in flow—often emerging hours later as if having been 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 stand out at the point of capture—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, in flow, 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 compare this with being in a tunnel, where all kinds of unpredictable things can happen. I have now idea what happens in there before I finally emerge onto the other side of the tunnel. 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” not long ago, in which I stated that contemplative photography in essence is about how to fully connect with the visual richness of our ordinary, daily experience.

There is a duality to this process. It’s two worlds coming together – the outside world and our inner 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 and influences 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 Henri 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.

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51 thoughts on “When Inner and Outer World Become One

  1. I agree, this is amazing timing to capture this moment, amazing photograph. Thank you dear Otto, Love, nia

  2. Love the diagonal lines in this photo. I also love when I get in that zen-like absorption when the world disappears and the only thing that matters is the art in front of me. I think that’s when the best work happens.

  3. >> … but I know that within the batch of photos from the shoot there is bound to be some goods one.
    I wish I could say that. But, in my case, It is more like… “within the batch of photos from the shoot there is bound to be a lesson or two to learn.” Ha. (Not a complain though. I enjoy the learning process. )
    Amazing photo! Have a wonderful day.

  4. What a remarkable image that is, Otto — I can’t stop looking at it. You really have captured that intersection between your individual (interior) perspective and the outside world. I think Cartier-Bresson would be pleased to see his words illustrated so beautifully.

  5. I agree that sometimes there is that ‘moment’ when you see and image and capture it as you saw it. Not every image turns out that way, but when it does it’s very special.

    1. That is interesting. I don’t think I have experienced it in the editing process. But of course, that part can be just as creative as the capturing, so yes, absolutely.

  6. yes, the photographer has a special third eye that sees the intersection of inner and outer… well said, and what a cool photo!

  7. I like what you say, Otto. Maybe there is a need to develop our awareness of experiences such as you describe.
    Following your post on contemplative photography I purchased a copy of Looking and Seeing by McQuade and Hall. It is based in Eastern philosophy (which the reader can take or leave according to taste) but I find the character of the practical assignments helpful and very much in lone with your thinking.

  8. That’s a good way of describing it. Inner and Outer World Becoming One, being in the zone, whatever you call it it’s great for photography, or any other task requiring mental focus.

  9. I see that others have also comment that Henri Cartier-Bresson’s remark about photographic seeing is an important directive, but that really jumped out at me. That alone is worth deep consideration! Thank you, Otto.

  10. There are times when I am so absorbed in the process of seeing/watching that I forget where I am — until someone or something approaches and scares me back to that other world. There are other times when the awareness of both worlds is strong – a bit like dribbling the basketball and aiming for the goal – while being aware of the other players on the court. Pondering this makes me wonder if these skills will help our brains stay healthy as we approach, hmmm, say 100 years of age….

    Your photo is amazing — is that a jet’s signature in the sky, and if so, did you pay that pilot to align so perfectly with the light on the mountain?

    1. Let me say it this way; it wasn’t cheap… But to what you write earlier. I do think keeping our ability to be present in two worlds alive, will help us in experiencing a more fulfilling life when we get older. But I hope I don’t get to be a 100 years…

      1. I’ve met some vibrant old timers, and as long as we can scramble up and down mountains or wade thru the muck in a swamp – i’d say that quality of life is what’s important! hopefully staying fit and quality of diet will help reach an active and vibrant old age… if not, let’s soar to the next chapter!

        Thank you as always, Otto, for your online friendship and support!

  11. You explain this process very well, Otto. In almost anything a person can do, to reach the potential of the situation there is both “the outside world and our inner world” as you describe, and when the two combine it creates such an understanding that all becomes possible. An environment where creativity flourishes. Great post and as always great writing.

  12. It takes a colossal patience to find the right spot and the exact time around the clock to catch the perfect “click”. Nonetheless, today, we have so many pictures edited and enhanced in order to get a frozen moment to last forever.
    Even though, in this first scenario, it doesn’t matter if there is one or two worlds in perspective. You are just creating a visual narrative far past from what really happened in reality just to fit your thoughts. In an analogous manner, it’s very similar to faith when the intangible becomes plausible just because you choose to believe on it. And in this second scenario, both worlds – inner and outer – will always be different. Now, they are independent of the photographer’s work even if in his last breath of life he decides to tell how it was the original version.

  13. When I read the Cartier-Bresson quotation it suddenly occurred to me that his metaphor of making the outer and inner worlds coincide might well have been inspired by his era’s rangefinder cameras. While looking through the viewfinder, a photographer would keep turning the camera’s focusing ring as two images of the subject moved horizontally; at the moment when the two images merged, the subject was correctly focused.

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