In my series about the Eightfold Path and Photography, Right Livelihood, being part of the Ethical conduct division of the Eightfold Path, is about taking your photos without causing harm to anybody, directly or indirectly. I wouldn’t go stalking a ‘celebrity’ or their kids to make a living, but I worked in the casino industry before, so it is not really possible for me to lecture people.
Indeed, it is easy to despise paparazzi, and a lot of people do, yet many more people seem to be lapping up the gossip and the silly celebrity culture that creates the whole paparazzi industry. The urge to live our lives in the light of somebody whose only achievement is that they have been on TV is the root of the problem and will no doubt be the subject of many studies to come in 10 or 20 years time. Show Right Action and live your own life!
In my series about the Eightfold Path and Photography, Right Action or Right Conduct, being part of the Ethical conduct division of the Eightfold Path, is the aspect of the path that ties it all together: I need to act rightly and selflessly in harmony with the other aspects of the path.
In the original interpretation the usual examples given are: don’t take lives, don’t steal, etc. But the more general original definition said to “train oneself to be morally upright in one’s activities, not acting in ways that would be corrupt or bring harm to oneself or to others.”
For me, for my photography, this translates into learning not to get unnecessarily hung up on my photos or on how people value my work. If people like them I’m happy, if they don’t, that is fine too. More important is what I think of my photos myself. I guess that it is a cliché, but I’m my worst critic although I do enjoy the improvements I made and I think that Right Action is just about that. One thing that I learned is not to judge photos immediately after you developed a film or get them back from the lab, I’m always hugely disappointed at that time, but find quite a few treasures a couple of weeks later.
In my series about the Eightfold Path and Photography, Right Speech, being part of the Ethical conduct division of the Eightfold Path, does refer to abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter. Translated into a photography related topic, I think it would mean that we need to respect other people’s opinions and work as shown or displayed on social networks or other parts of the Internet, no matter what.
How easy isn’t it to rip into somebody who has misunderstood HDRI and who pushed to slider controls of Photomatix, or similar tool, to the maximum and proudly created an awful tonemapped image with blatant haloes around all the contours? And all the other comments are loving it? Are they not seeing the problems of the image?
How many more times do you want to see a black and white photo of a kid with one aspect of the photo left in colour? How often aren’t we infuriated by people in any of the photography forums who we know for sure are stupid for not understanding the same thing we find so obvious? Better stop now, I could go on for a few hours more.
But none of these are reasons to attack people personally or talk down their work, Right Speech teaches us. There never is a reason for doing this. You can give your opinion and engage in a discussion, but there is no reason to be abusive or react in an abusive way when we are abused for our opinions or photographic work in turn. In the end, can we really be sure that our opinion is the only valid one?
The fact that I had way too much fun writing this blog post shows that I have plenty to learn about Right Speech.
In my series about the Eightfold Path and Photography, Right Intention or Right Resolve, being part of the Wisdom division of the Eightfold Path, really asks the question “How far do you want to go to change any ill habit that you might have? And how far do you want to go to learn new good habits?”
If you don’t have any ill habits, I guess you’re good to go on this one. However, if I look into myself, I know that I can do better on several things, for instance:
If I’m travelling and am tired, do I get up at 6 o’clock to get the famous tourist attraction almost all by myself without the other tourists blocking the view? Do I hold off on going to the restaurant for dinner when I’m hungry because of the wonderful light?
If, after a long day, I think that I might get a better shot or composition if I walk closer or further away from the subject or change lenses once more, will I do it or put on a zoom lens and make do?
A landscape photographer spends days hiking and scouting the area for the best light and best location to shoot a handful of photos, how can I expect a good shot when I just happen to pass?
Do I make the shot in camera or attempt to solve the issues in PhotoShop or LightRoom days later at home?
Am I really sure I have full control over the exposure before I release the shutter or are some things left to chance? A TTL lightmeter is so easily fooled and cannot be relied on if the subject is lit a little tricky (and isn’t that always the case?).
Etc. etc., I think everybody can come up with a personalized list as long as their arm easily. I think I can improve on several of these topics myself even though I think my intention is right most of the time.
In my series about the Eightfold Path for Photography, Right View, or Right Understanding, is not merely understanding how the camera works or how to get a correct exposure. These are definitely things that are part of Right View and using the camera in Manual Mode should be second nature. But Right View, being part of the Wisdom division of the Eightfold Path, is all about understanding all the factors that define the outcome of a photo. It is what Ansel Adams referred to as ‘pre-visualization’ of a photo. Not just camera handling, exposure and composition, it is about knowing what the result will look like before you press the shutter.
I think the Right View must exist always, not just for those cases when I know that I can pull off a decent photograph, but everywhere and always driving the other seven factors of the path.
In Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is the last of the Noble Truths, the one that leads us to the end of suffering. Don’t worry, one night’s stay at a Buddhist temple on a beautiful mountain and participating in zazen and copying the Heart sutra haven’t made me go all bananas all of a sudden, but it is a fact that Zen art does resonate with me and who can say no to developing insight into the true nature of reality when we’re talking about photography. It is something that I’ve always found difficult to achieve: looking at things differently from others, simplifying the composition and finding the essence of it. Don’t the photos that win prizes and acclaim excel in exactly that?
The Eightfold Path is traditionally written down like this:
These are not stages that need to be reached one after the other like the steps of becoming a sage or a list of commandments, these are the practices that describe how an aware photographer behaves and reacts to challenges. These are things that need to be practiced in unison for us to improve ourselves. It is tempting to cherry-pick the ones that would obviously apply to photography but let’s show Right Effort and include all the precepts.
Over the next few weeks I’ll explore Eightfold Path and how I would apply it to my photography.
Having lived around London for several years and having carried my camera on me for many an impromptu photo walk, I usually went to the South Bank if I didn’t go to the Battersea area. I liked the space you have on the banks of the River Thames and the chances for some easy street photography with the tourists and the performers.
So, many times I have walked underneath Waterloo Bridge being intrigued by the underside of the bridge or by the skateboarders on the Southbank Skatepark, but little did I know that a far more interesting place lies just on the other side of the river: Somerset House.
Somerset House has regular photo exhibitions, free access and a free guided tour. The most well known photography subjects in Somerset House are the Stamp Office staircase and the Nelson staircase.
On my 35mm camera I had brought a 20mm lens to be able to get as much as possible inside the frame. The first time I visited I had loaded Ilford HP5+ at EI 400 which was perfect. The next time I visited I had loaded Fuji Acros 100 at EI 100 and that almost was a mistake as it was darker than you would expect.
Whether they are clichés in post-processing like the use of selective colours, over the top tone mapped HDR images, the indiscriminate use of post processing filters, too much saturation or vignetting, etc. etc. or the clichés in subjects like sunsets, flowers, pets, extreme long exposures of buildings or Victorian piers on the beach, etc. etc., there is a risk that people are tired of looking at the results. On several blogs I see negative comments on nice and well composed photos with the only rebuke that the photo is a cliché and no other comment is given. That’s just silly.
To tell you the truth, I don’t mind looking at clichés, I don’t mind taking a photo that would be considered a cliché. Of course, a photo from the same location and the same angle and exposure as everybody else’s will not be satisfactory to most including me and I think anybody who is serious about photography would get bored of those photos pretty quickly and start exploring other areas of photography. Once you get past the phase of photo postcards, there are libraries of photo books and gigabytes of examples online available of classic photography. But imitating the masters yields clichés. Indeed, passing an imitation off as the bees knees is not a good idea and it is always good to know when you are imitating somebody, but trying to figure out how a certain photo that appeals to you is made by exploring and copying the techniques used is just common sense. With a bit of luck one can stand on the shoulders of giants and take the next step.
To me, the problem is not the imitation or the cliché, but to me the problem is the repetition, not moving on and starting to imitate oneself. And I don’t think that only starting photographers are guilty of that.
Sun Ra and his Arkestra at the North Sea Jazz Festival – Saturday 17 July 1982.
A Sun Ra concert is something you will remember for the rest of your life: it is a mix between a big-band free-jazz concert, a religious ceremony and a trip to outer space. Long before UFO abduction stories had been heard of, Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount) had become convinced that his roots lay on the planet Saturn which he visited by spaceship and he developed “cosmic” philosophies and lyrical poetry as he preached “awareness” and peace above all in his music. No need to point out that the concert of Sun Ra and his Arkestra that I visited on the Roof Garden scene at the North Sea Jazz Festival 1982 was quite the spectacle with the space music, poem recitals and space costumes.
Watch the video of my B&W photos taken at Taiyoji Temple during our temple stay (shukubo):