This is an abbreviated version of the review. Here you’ll find the full version.
It’s with great pleasure I have read The Mindful Photographer. It’s the latest book by David Ulrich and takes a different route on photography than most photo books. It explores in depth the relationship between the photographer and the world he or she photographs.
This is not a book so much about the practicalities of the craft, but rather about the thinking behind the execution of the craft. It’s about the need to be mindful about the approach in order to capture images that goes beyond the superficial and beyond the quest for simply high impact imagery without any deeper connotations or connections, so prevailing in the popular photography—according to the author.
The Mindful Photographer emphasizes being open to the subject and being present in the moment. Many of the ideas in Ulrich’s book can help the reader to forge a dialogue with the world and culture through a camera. At the same time, and maybe even more so, he advocates the need to know yourself—as fully as possible and in an ongoing manner. As he writes, “all art is a dialogue between oneself, one’s materials, and the world. It is often a journey with only a hazily defined destination.”
The writing resonate very much we my own approach and how I have come to think about photography. It doesn’t mean I am in agreement with all Ulrich’s writes. The fact that I disagree with Ulrich on some of his thoughts, strengthens the value of his writings and makes for a much more constructive and comprehensive reading experience. Because we sometimes disagree, reading the book turns much more into a conversation between the two of us.
Having said that, some readers will most likely reject Ulrich’s approach to photographing. He draws a lot from a Zen way of life, and I am sure a few will not feel comfortable adopting the tenets of an eastern religion to their photography.
Nevertheless, if you feel provoked by his philosophy and his writing, I still believe reading the book would or could be beneficial—if you don’t reject it without giving his thoughts any consideration. One doesn’t have to agree, but going in a dialogue with his ideas might enlighten the understanding of yourself and make you become more mindful about your own approach to photography.
Ulrich’s writing and style at times feels high-flying, esoteric and a little wishy-washy. He is at his best when he is concrete and writes about or draw upon his own experiences and practice, rather than expressing overarching, spiritual ideas in what I see in somewhat bloated and bulging terms.
Sometimes I also have a problem with his ethical standpoints, not that I actually disagree with his values, but the way he raises them to universal truths. Take social media, he is very critical of them and how many people use for instance Instagram. Again, I totally agree with his sentiments, but I still think his moral enforcement and his disregard for other values than his own ethical drive, sway how others may approach social media and what justifies their use.
Despite some objections on my part, The Mindful Photographer is a book I can truly recommend. It’s inspiring, it brings a deeper understand to the connection between the photographer and his or her approach to photography and what it can be, and, as the title indicates, it empowers the way to think about photography. In the end, it will make you a better photographer.
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