What an interesting book. This concept of being in the moment and totally "there" when you are photography is something I try to teach in my classes. Teaching the technical details of digital photography, composition and related concepts in relatively easy. Inspiring photographers to be transported and completely absorbed in the moment is difficult.
The author of Zen and the Magic of Photography, Wayne Rowe, is a brave writer to attempt to convey such an ethereal concept to paper. Exploring Zen and Satori and how it is related to exceptional photography isn't easy.
Some of Rowe's primary points:
Zen: Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism, translated from the Chinese word Chán to Japanese. This word is in turn derived from the Sanskrit dhyana, which means "meditation."
Zen emphasizes experiential prajña, particularly as realized in the form of meditation, in the attainment of enlightenment. As such, it de-emphasizes theoretical knowledge in favor of direct, experiential realization through meditation and dharma practice.
The establishment of Zen is traditionally credited to be in China, the Shaolin Temple, by the South Indian Pallava prince-turned-monk Bodhidharma, who came to China to teach a "special transmission outside scriptures" which "did not stand upon words." The emergence of Zen as a distinct school of Buddhism was first documented in China in the 7th century AD. It is thought to have developed as an amalgam of various currents in Mahayana Buddhist thought.
Satori: is a Japanese Buddhist term for "enlightenment." The word literally means "understanding." "Satori" translates as a flash of sudden awareness, or individual enlightenment, and while satori is from the Zen Buddhist tradition, enlightenment can be simultaneously considered "the first step" or embarkation toward nirvana.
Satori is typically juxtaposed with a related term known as kensho, which translates as "seeing one's nature." Kensho experiences tend to be briefer glimpses, while satori is considered to be a deeper spiritual experience. Satori is an intuitive experience and has been described as being similar to awakening one day with an additional pair of arms, and only later learning how to use them.
Studium: According to Barthes, studium is an extension of our field of knowledge and cultural information. It is by studium that we take an interest in photos that refer to a classical body of cultural information . . . ." Studium, Latin. Zeal , eagerness, application, enthusiasm; devotion to, goodwill towards a person or cause; application to learning, study.
Punctum: According to Barthes, punctum "will break or punctuate the studium. Punctum has the power to expand and provoke satori."
Latin term meaning puncture or wound, used by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida (1980), to describe how he feels touched by certain photographs, because of incidental details which trigger emotionally charged personal associations, unrelated to the meaning of photographs as culturally determined.
As a whole, the book is lovely. I was a bit put off in the beginning by British-style punctuation. The periods and commas were outside the quotation marks. In American punctuation, commas and periods are always inside the quotation marks. Rowe also used many ellipses and they were periods with no spacing and three instead of four in the body of a sentence. This may be another British-style convention. Yes, I know this is picayune, but it still bothered me at first. I mean, we are talking about Zen and awareness. Not to worry, after a couple dozen pages, I got over it.
Basic Ideas in the book:
1. Open yourself to the light, images and reality around you.
2. Open yourself to feeling. Look with your capacity to feel and you will experience and become part of the NOW, Reality, Being: the "isness" of the moment. Always follow your feelings.
3.Experiencing real moments will lead you to a culminating moment of Satori'a moment when you hear the light; the image sings; and form content, and feeling are one.
4. You will, by virtue of being in the moment, improve the quality of your art.
5. The more you actively look, the more the action will become intuitive and natural, subconscious and effortless: and that with practice, you eye will be intuitively and subconsciously drown to the light, and the light will be drawn to your eye.
I was especially pleased with the author's style of using detailed illustrations of his ideas. For instance, using a 1955 photo of James, there is an in-depth analysis of the symbolism in the photo. Truly, I've looked at this photo many times in passing and I saw nothing more than the superficial information that I acquired with a quick glance.
When I had finished reading, I saw the photo in a completely different light. In fact, it was as though I was seeing it for the very first time. The ultimate result for me is that I see more thoroughly and compose more carefully. It is an ongoing process.
Rowe discusses his concepts in relationship to many great photographers: W. Eugene Smith, Ansel Adams, Lucien Clergue, Ernest Haas, Edward Weston, Manual Alvarez Bravo, Joel Meyerowitz, Minor White and others. On the other hand, he uses many Pop Culture movie references. In the conclusion of Part II of the book he says, "Zen and the Magic of Photography has stressed the interconnections between three forms of the photographic image: the still photograph, the photo essay, and the motion picture." The author pulls together threads that many photographers may never have considered. Whether or not you agree with all or most of Rowe's conclusions, his ideas and illustrations are provocative and interesting. Admit it, isn't that what we, as artists and craftsmen need, often need the most: fresh ideas, approaches and exciting and inspiring perspectives?