From a Zen perspective, photography is ‘seeing what is’. This is very different from a seeing that is based on what we think or feel it is. They present two incompatible frames of reference. The former uses a contemplative approach, while the latter is based on a traditional, conceptual way of seeing.
On Discoveries and Inventions
A great deal of anecdotal evidence in the arts and sciences highlights the struggle and perseverance that is so prominent in the history of discoveries. The same is true for ‘seeing’ with one’s own eyes. It suggests a common pattern in the mysterious workings of creativity. The driving force is one’s total involvement and determination not to give up.
Conflict and Creativity.
My understanding of creativity is much influenced by A. Koestler and supported by my practice of zazen. Koestler sees conflict as the fundamental ingredient in creativity. In short, he says, conflict is made up of the perception of two incompatible ideas or frames of reference. They are both correct but only one will do. The resulting impasse cannot be resolved by logic or reason. Caught in such an ambiguity we get stressed and the level of tension rises. This is the time when we are at our most creative because our rational, conceptual mind is temporarily suspended. The moment of the creative flash is when we have exhausted all possibilities, when all attempts at finding a solution have failed.
In photography, we are faced with a similarly impossible situation. I am referring to the conceptual and the contemplative approach. Both are equally acceptable. At the same time, they are incompatible ways of seeing but only one can prevail at a time. The conceptual approach is dominated by our habitual way of thinking. It emphasizes logic, analysis, and its focus is on outcome, purpose, technique, subject matter, competition and so forth. In contrast, the contemplative approach is all inclusive but does not focus on anything in particular. It is everything the former is not. This is the dilemma and challenge one has to face.
If we are able to maintain the tension in this conflict we mobilize all our resources and go beyond conceptual thinking. Then a creative solution is a likely outcome.
For example, a conflict may arise when one gets discouraged about not having a flash of perception. To fall short of one’s goals and expectations, to be stymied and fail is difficult to accept. All kinds of issues, feelings and thoughts will rise up, interfere and add to the confusion. The challenge is to let them be and not to chase after them or try to repress them or give up. To be just the conflict is difficult but this is where the struggle takes place and where the tension arises. To refrain from clinging to our personal agendas, desires and wishes can be intensely frustrating and even painful. Only when you realize there is nothing to hold on to, the mind becomes quiet and clear. Then it is possible to transcend the impasse. This is the kind off sacrifice one has to make in order to set the mind free and to allow creativity to shine through.