Something interesting happens when we take a photo: We open our eyes. Fully. It’s as though before then a curtain had been covering our eyes. It’s as though a veil blocked our vision. And we start to see things that seemingly weren’t there before. We start to see details and idiosyncrasies.
Taking pictures helps us to really see things as they genuinely are (so does drawing). Taking pictures helps us to take a closer look, which we normally don’t do. To examine and study an object or a person. Because as photojournalist Dorothea Lange said, “A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.”
Taking pictures also is a powerful way to practice gratitude. To remind ourselves of the wonder that surrounds us.
“Even on the hardest of days, the beauty of the world can pull me back. I can literally see the world through a different lens—one that honors the miraculous,” writes Andrea Scher in issue 2 of Bella Grace magazine.
She further writes, “The bright green sprig of life bursting through a crack in the sidewalk, the way the white petals fall like confetti onto the concrete, the impossibly long lashes of my boys.”
The key to using our cameras (and thereby seeing) is to take a break from judging and spinning negative stories about our surroundings, situation and circumstances (which our minds are very good at doing). According to photographers Andy Karr and Michael Wood in their book The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes:
Unfortunately, much of the time, we are cut off from clear seeing and the creative potential of our basic being. Instead, we get caught up in cascades of internal dialogue and emotionality. Immersed in thoughts, daydreams and projections, we fabricate our personal versions of the world and dwell within them like silkworms in cocoons. Instead of appreciating the raindrops on the window, we experience something like “This weather is nasty. I have to get to work, and I need a new raincoat. I hope it clears up for the weekend.” Seeing patterns of light on the counter becomes, “I wish we could afford some nice fabric shades instead of these cheap metal miniblinds. I wonder what color would look nice in here.”
So whenever you’re snapping a photo, pause. Notice if you’re judging or making certain assumptions about what you’re looking at. Notice if other thoughts are intruding, thoughts about to-do lists and doubts (about your ability to take a photo; about this being a total waste of time). If your mind is spinning tales, close your eyes, take several deep breaths, and refocus on the subject. Refocus on the contours, colors, texture, patterns and shape. Refocus on what’s really there.
If you need a place to start, start with ordinary things. Start with a coffee mug. A soap dish. A towel. A tire. A lamp. A chair. Or a coffee table. A puddle or pillow. Start where you are sitting or standing. Start anywhere.
How do these objects look through your lens? What happens when you take a break from judgments and assumptions and negative stories?
The next time you want to see something, get out your camera (or smartphone or anything you have). Take a photo to help you anchor and ground yourself in the present moment. To help you see what’s really there. You also can do what Andrea does and use photography as a gratitude practice. Use photography, as Andrea writes, for “glimpses into the marvelous” and to “find some simple beauty.” Because it’s there. Even in the soap dish. Even in a pillow. Even in a random puddle on a random street.