Kim Manley Ort is a contemplative photographer who loves her life. She gets great pleasure in seeing things differently and helping others to do the same. Her workshops in seeing are both online and in person. This is an interview with Kim on how to take pictures the contemplative way.
Q. How can photography help enhance mindfulness?
According to your own definition, Aarathi, mindfulness is about being present, being in the now, and directing our attention where it is needed most.Photography takes me out of my head and into the moment. It teaches me to pay closer attention.
I didn’t realize this benefit when I first began to photograph. I just knew that I loved taking pictures. After several years, I came to the realization that it was the process of photography that brought me joy, not necessarily the final print. Being present is joyful (not necessarily happy), no matter what we are experiencing, because we are truly connecting and responding in the moment.
The focus in my photography workshops is on mindfulness in seeing, that is, seeing the reality of life without filters or judgments. I think some of us get into photography because we’ve started seeing with mindfulness and want to photograph what we see. But then what happens is that photography teaches us to see even more. This has certainly been my experience. With photography, we’re translating our seeing experience into a 2D image within a frame. These supposed limitations help us to discern what we are really seeing.
Q. Sometimes it feels as though the camera is coming in the way of our experience, how can we change that perception and use it as a mindfulness tool instead?
Yes, the camera can definitely get in the way, especially when we’re too quick to click the shutter and/or are too focused on outcome – the final print. We see this everywhere today. The cell phones come out for a shot. And, everyone puts on their favorite pose or face. There’s something very “unreal” about it. Or, when we are traveling, we photograph all of the typical tourist spots, without ever really experiencing the place.
To use our camera as a mindfulness tool, we change our mindset from “taking” a picture to “receiving”one. These are the main steps.
- First we have to be prepared – knowing how our camera works and having it on the correct settings for the time and place.
- Secondly, we have to be present and open to whatever comes. We let go of expectations of getting a particular shot. We wait until something resonates. We savor the moment and what we are seeing.
- Then and only then do we pick up our camera and honor the moment by clicking the shutter.
Q. In what way can contemplative photography help mothers?
Being contemplative is to consider with attention from the heart. I believe that this is what children need most from their mothers. Children are living, evolving beings that change rapidly, yet who also have a unique core. As mothers, we need to respect and love them for who they are.
Mothers have a lot on their plate. Yet, this is their most important job. The more they can be mindful in the midst of the busy-ness, the more enjoyable and memorable the time will be.Seeing our children in this way each and every day will make them feel loved beyond measure by the person most important to them. Contemplative photography is a practice that can help us see everything, including our children, in this way.
Q.Can we turn the camera towards our children in a contemplative manner?
Yes, definitely. My children are now grown and, although I took lots of pictures of them, I wasn’t thinking in this way at the time. So, I can only speculate on how I would approach them differently today. As mothers, we know who our children are at their core more than anyone else.We need to spend time each day being present with our children and loving the qualities that make up their essence. When the time is right, we’ll receive the image that shows those qualities best. Some of the favorite images of my own children happened quite by accident. I remember one day when my oldest daughter climbed a tree. When she reached a certain level, she turned to me on her knees in the tree and spread her arms wide with a self-satisfied look on her face. I captured the moment and, to this day, it represents the approach she takes to life.
Here are a couple of other examples from people I admire.
Susannah Conway often photographs her nephew Noah. These photographs are usually taken in the midst of some activity they’re doing together and you can just feel the connection between them.
This example is one that shows you don’t always have to show your child’s face. The feet and toys say it all. Don’t we just love our children’s little feet? How many times do we actually take a picture of them?
Rachel is a family photographer. She was in one of my classes and said that this image was one of her favorites. She will always remember her daughter’s long eyelashes.
What other examples would capture the essence of your child? Her face as she listens to a book read by Grandma, her hands as she plays a game with you, her arm around the family dog, etc. I wish I had a picture of my son’s face as he masterfully put together 3D puzzles. Catch your children being who they are.
Q. As someone who uses the camera to just click pictures what do you advice our first step be in making it a more contemplative experience?
I would suggest three things.
* A mindful meditation practice that teaches you to be present and observe your thoughts. Aarathi’s site is a good place to start.
* Spend time just observing your child as you interact. What are the qualities you love most about them? Physically, mentally, emotionally. Start there.
* Learn to see the elements of visual design. Most of my online classes are about learning to see, but especially Photo By Design, which trains us one week at a time, to see these elements – light, lines, shapes, textures, patterns, etc.