Therapy of Now

The raw material for photography is right now. You can’t take a photo tomorrow. Of course, you can wait until tomorrow, for that particular now when you press the shutter button. But you can’t capture the photo, neither before nor after, if you didn’t do it then. In the same way, you can’t capture a photo yesterday, if you didn’t do it then, in that now.

Photography forces you to be in the present. It’s all about finding the right now to press the shutter button. You can’t vast the moments if you want to photograph. Whatever you didn’t capture now, is forever lost. Photography forces you to pay attention and notice whatever is happening right in front of your eyes. Right now.

The camera is an instrument for presence. By default, photography facilitates mindfulness. No doubt, all creative activity, which allows us to enter flow, will have that affect, but in particular, photography is a forceful catalyst for mindfulness, exactly because it forces us to be so aware of the now.

You can’t worry about what has happened before or about the future, when you are fully aware of the present moment.

The photographic process pulls us into the moment, makes us seize this precious time we never get back. The ability to concentrate and be present is a prerequisite for taking good pictures. What more is, practicing being in the presence when photographing, makes it easier to be present even without a camera.

Whether you capture a photo at a fraction of a second or with a minutes’ long exposure, your mind will be focusing on what is happening right now. In our modern society we all too much think about and plan the future, get stressed by all the things we need to do, have regrets and are bothered by whatever we didn’t get a chance to do or did do but erroneously; there is so much to think about, that we forget to live. In this very now. No matter what, life happens here and now. Not tomorrow and not yesterday. Future plans have no value before they actually happen, or even worse, if they don’t ever come to be realized.

Thus, photography is a mental health catalyst. It gives us a feeling of mastery. Because the way to master the present moment, is also the way to master everything else. It all starts with the first, uncertain step, the first, terrible photo. Right now. Photography is therapy for the mind. It keeps the mind healthy.

Embrace Failure

Here the other night, I was visiting an artist friend of mine. He wanted to discuss early artwork he has created years ago and have rejected, to see if some of the paintings were worth keeping or make changes to in order for them to become complete.

My friend is a successful artist. His paintings have been bought by national galleries and museums, but are quite different from these early works.

We had a constructive and good discussion, talking about reframing, or cropping as we would say in the world of photography, or adding elements or do other changes to the paintings. A lot of the early work came out as really good, and those paintings that weren’t, could be worked into something that would make them great, too. However, quite a few there were no hope for.

All these paintings represent a time when my friend was experimenting a lot with materials, techniques, approaches and artistic expressions. Although they are very different from his later and much recognized work, it was clear, seen in retrospect, that they were necessary steps towards his maturity as an artist and the level that made him renowned and successful.

What stroke me, while it’s something I have often enough emphasized, is the necessity to be willing to experiment and take changes if you want to develop your artistic expression, be it as a painter, a photographer, or anything else creatively. If not, you won’t develop, you will languish as an artist.

However, by taking chance, you risk making something that might become a failure. That lies in whole idea of taking a risk or a chance. If not, there wouldn’t be any risk involved, you wouldn’t be taking any chances.

I think this is so fundamental to acknowledge for yourself if you want to develop as an artist. It means embracing the idea of failure, not as failure in fact, but as necessary steps towards higher artistry. Failures are only failures if you seen them as such. If you take them as possibilities to learn and expand, suddenly they are only part of the process to become ever better.

If you don’t fail, it means you are not developing. If you do fail, it indicates that you are trying to become better or more profound in your skills and artistry. A positive, rather than negative, adaptation.

It’s easy to feel miserable when you fail, whether you don’t achieve what you had set out to accomplish, artistically, or don’t get the recognition you think you deserve. I know, I have been there plenty enough.

The important point is to try to turn it around, so that what you see as failures do not stop you, but rather encourage you to keep on trying. Failures are not failures. But necessary steps in the learning process. No renown artist has gotten his or her recognition overnight, without any prior trying and failing, without labouring and taking chance. The only thing different between them and us is you don’t see all those mistakes and disappointments that they had to prevail.

So embrace failures. They are much more important for your artistic development than your successes. That has been confirmed as well in cognitive behavioural research.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

New Energy

I have not been present on my blog for about a month and a half. The last post was the one on September 25th. Maybe you have noticed...

If I have been absent, the world still keeps moving forward in its crooked orbit, no matter what. The numbers of newly infected has skyrocketed all over the world during this time (with the slightly encouraging exception of the African continent—particularly south of Sahara). At the same time, a new president has been elected in the States, bringing some hope to these dark and gloomy times.

All while the world has spun further out of its trajectory, I have done some inventory on my own. The times, limiting most normal activities, almost encourage engaging in some reflective pursuit. Not much else to do these days, anyway. In addition, about to finish a three-month long mentor program I have been teaching, I suddenly find myself with even more time for self-development.

This blog is close to have existed for ten years. I wrote my first blog June 9th 2011. That turned into 790 posts over the next years—not counting this one. Maybe it’s time to do something else? If not, it’s definitely time for changing the framework of the blog. The question is; where do I want to go? Still don’t know, but ideas are emerging.

While still struggling with the future path, let me tell you about my latest photo project. As for people in general, my travelling has been severely limited after the outbreak of covid-19. In fact, I haven’t travelled at all. And I usually spend some hundred days travelling each year. Thus, I have decided to go through my archive of photos, looking for landscape photos from all over the world I could change into something different. I ended up with 37 images in which I have skewed the colours and changed the framing.

The photos are posted on my Instagram account, one each day up until Christmas. I have called the project Cross Colour Landscape, the first image posted here. If you want to follow the series, you’ll find my Instagram site here: www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow.

Let me finally take the liberty to draw your attention to the new eBook I launched this autumn. It goes into depth about seeing with the intention of photographing and how to develop the ability. “Photographically Seeing—Seeing Better, Seeing Deeper” is 106 pages packed with useful information and practical exercise to make to see what is rather than what you believe is there. You’ll find more info and can order the book here: www.munchow.no/ebook2.

Photographically Seeing

Are you ready to learn and understand how you eyes work—and how to make your visual perception sharper and better fit for the task of finding potential photographs? My new eBook “Photographically Seeing—Seeing Better, Seeing Deeper” will take your seeing—and thus your photography—to the next level.

For a photographer, seeing is where it all really starts. If you don’t see anything that interests you, you won’t be able to take any interesting photos. Obviously. However, there is a big difference between seeing in general and seeing with the intention of taking photographs.

“Photographically Seeing—Seeing Better, Seeing Deeper” will take you on a journey into how our eyes and brain work and teach you how you can develop and train your perceptive skills.

By training your perceptiveness, you not only improve your ability to discover and see potential subjects better and thus are able to create stronger and better photographs, but the opposite is also true. In the process of photographing, you train yourself to see more deliberately and clearer. The camera can consequently help liberate your awareness to see clearly and keenly, to know something about who you really are, and open your being to an unfading swell of empathy and compassion for those you meet along the way.

Maybe it’s time to discover how to see again? By taking the time to truly focus on what it is you see you’ll be able to create more engaging photos. Rediscover what it is you really see, and you will probably find that your photos will change dramatically. Good seeing doesn’t ensure good photography by itself, though, but a captivating photographic expression is impossible without it.

“Photographically Seeing—Seeing Better, Seeing Deeper” is 106 pages packed with useful information and practical exercises to make to see what is rather than what you believe is there.

Order the book “Photographically Seeing—Seeing Better, Seeing Deeper”

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Seeing before Seeing

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I often ponder about how we see a photograph before we actually push the button. How do we see in our mind what could potentially become a photo? What triggers us to take the photo before we even think in photographic terms? In some cases—well probably in most cases—we are obviously triggered by the desire to keep the moment as a memory without necessarily being too concerned about whether the subject is photogenic or not. We want to capture the big moments in our kids’ lives, our grandmother’s 90 birthday, holidays with our family, the big party with friends and acquaintances, and the day we bought a new house. These moments we will capture no matter how bad the light might be, how impossible it will be to compose the subject well, or how technically terrible the final result will be.

I am not saying we won’t use our photographic skills in these situations. Of course we will. We won’t drop the camera and let go of taking the photo even when we know it’s going to be far from a perfect snapshot. The question I raise is related to the more creative act of photographing, when we look for aesthetics or subjects or content that expresses a broader and more universal connection. How do our minds first see the image that could potentially turn into a captivating photograph?

Many times I have tried to formulate my own processes of seeing and discovering images—or the commencement of the process before I start to transform those first inner visions into photographs. But words come hard to describe the process and so far I have not found a way to translate it into a sound, written description. Of course, many other photographs have done so, and transformed their knowledge into valuable understanding of the photographic process. Some of these statements have become classical quotes for the photographic community. Still I feel there is some kind of detachment between my own reactive initiation and most of the rational explanations.

One thing I have become more and more certain about is that there are many ways which lead to that initial activation of our photographic vision. Take myself as an example: Many times I have captured a photo before I am even aware I did—while in other cases I am working around the subject until I find a way to capture it in a most compelling way. Right there I guess, I mentioned one element that may trigger the whole photographic vision: The subject itself. In these cases I don’t necessarily see a photo for my inner eye before I start shooting, but I work the subject and use my photographic skills to twist and turn something out of what is an interesting subject for me—interesting not necessarily as a photograph but more for political, social or cultural reasons. The before mentioned family snapshots are a variation of this approach. A lot of my journalistic work could be placed into this category, too. Often these photos are contrived and less fluid than images I have a more intuitive approach to. They don’t necessarily have that emotional connection that is so important in a photograph.

However, sometimes I manage to transcend this rational approach and instead I will enter a more unconscious flow. That happens when I get more emotionally attached to whatever I am photographing and lose myself in the process. This I described in the post Tunnel Vision I posted some time ago. For me this is a much more interesting process. The question still remains: When I let go of the rational mind, what does it instead look for? How does it see the photo when I decide to press the shutter button?

I know from my own experience that I often don’t see whatever I photograph as the picture will appear finally processed. I still see in terms of pictures, but in a more abstract way, seeing relations, seeing light, seeing the potential more than in terms of a finished photo. The classical understanding is one that the renowned landscape photographer Ansell Adams described. He was very adamant about the necessity of pre-visualizing. As part of the so-called zone-system he developed for black and white photography, he thought it was required for a photographer to be able to see how the final photo would appear—and already during the capturing make adjustments for that final expression. If are able to see any of Ansell Adams’ photo as real photographic prints, you would be amazed about the richness and tonal depth of his photos. To obtain that technical superiority with the analogue process of those days I think it was indeed necessary to be able to pre-visualize.

Maybe I am not so concern about a technical perfect photo, but am more interested in capturing emotional content and connections in a photo. And maybe I process my photos in different ways depending on what my intentions are—even after the fact. I am definitely more trusting intuition than using pre-visualization as a tool. However I still think my brain has learned how to see in terms of pictures. After a lifetime of capturing and seeing pictures (I don’t know how many hundred thousands it will be by now) I have a certain understanding of what works and I think I see that in a glimpse of moment before I trigger the shutter. I clearly see a subject in terms of compositional placement—unconsciously—and move myself around without thinking in order to arrange the elements in an as strong as possible relationship. I think that accounts for one of my strengths as a photographer; to be able to capture compelling photos in situations when a lot goes on at the same time. And then I really see—and look for—the emotional or connecting moment.

How do you “see” a photo before taking it? What is your mind looking for? Do you recognize for your eye previous seen images? Do you approach the subject with an open mind? Do you use pre-visualization more than intuition—or the other way around? I would love to hear more about how your mind see the images you take—before you take them.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Barriers to Seeing

Seeing is where all photography starts. We need to see in order to find subjects and discover the potential for a good photo out in the world surrounding us. However, it’s not always as easy to see as we would like to when we are photographers. The reason is partly the way our eye and brain work against discovering the photogenic in our everyday environment. Another challenge is various barriers to photographically seeing.

In most cases our seeing is hindered by a range of mental barriers when we photograph. One of them is not being able to let go of self. Preoccupation with self is probably the greatest barrier to seeing, and the hardest one to break. You may be worrying about your job, or kids, or other responsibilities, or you may be uneasy about your ability to handle a new lens or to calculate exposure. There always seems to be something standing in the way of fully and consciously seeing. Too much self-concern blocks direct experience of things outside yourself.

It might be easier said than done to cease all those trivial thoughts that take place all the time. There is a constant inner dialogue going on in our minds. We are always preoccupied with thoughts and internal exchanges. If we can’t let go of self-concern, these constant thoughts act like a shield to both new impressions of the world and creative insights that otherwise might have been released from the subconscious. Although the mind never rests, we can learn to defer our attention away from this never-ending inner dialogue.

If the mind is not overcrowded, not preoccupied, and blocked by thoughts of all kinds, then without effort it can perceive the dog running after a bike, see the couple kissing on a bench and be aware of the flower about to burst into bloom, all those small details that we normally would overlook. A quiet and unoccupied mind can perceive it all without labelling it. Such a mind is a living thing, intensely so, and by far from dead as otherwise could be associated with an unoccupied mind.

A variation of not being able to let go of self is the desire to be original. When we hold on to such an idea as being “original”, we inhibit the creative process. In doing so, we are not creating anything original, but just trying to be different. By forcing ourselves to be original, we close ourselves down to what is, we see nothing with open eyes any longer, but apply a contrived and limiting approach to seeing. Don’t worry about originality. It will find you; you do not need to find it. There is nothing new under the sun—except for you. You will be shaped by what has influenced you, but your way of seeing, and your approach to photography is yours and yours alone.

Yet another barrier is expectations. If you expect to find something in particular, that’s exactly what you will find. Think of a colour and suddenly you will see that colour everywhere, in everything and more often than you would usually notice it. Likewise, if I am going on a trip to Cuba—a country I know all so well—I go with a head full of mental pictures of what the country will look like and what kind of photographs I’ll expect to find and make. If I remain unconscious about these expectations, they will more likely than not prevent me from seeing what is there and seeing anything but what I already have made my mind up about. What we expect to see blinds us from what is actually there.

Another barrier to seeing is the mass of stimuli surrounding us. We are so bombarded with visual and other stimuli that we must block out most of them in order to cope. We develop tunnel vision, which gives us a clear view of the rut ahead of us, but prevents us from seeing the world around us.

This is another excerpt from my soon to be published eBook “Photographically Seeing—Seeing Better, Seeing Deeper”. It will soon be made available. And of course, I will announce it here.