Mindfulness and a photographers blank state of mind

Die Leere des Fotografen

Minor White has been living a long time before photography got digitized and is thought of, like his friend Ansel Adams, as one of the most influential black and white photographers from the middle of the last century. This quote comes from him:

The state of mind of a photographer while creating is a blank…

For those who would equate “blank” with a kind of static emptiness, I must explain that this is a special kind of blank. It is a very active state of mind really, a very receptive state of mind, ready at an instant to grasp an image, yet with no image pre-formed in it at any time. We should note that the lack of a pre-formed pattern or preconceived idea of how anything ought to look is essential to this blank condition. Such a state of mind is not unlike a sheet of film itself – seemingly inert, yet so sensitive that a fraction of a second’s exposure conceives a life in it. (Not just life, but “a” life).

Minor White and mindfulness

When i read that quote for the first time i thought “he’s talking about mindfulness…”. My further research revealed that Minor White was interested in Zen-philosophy which, like mindfulness, has buddhistic roots.

The three essential principals of mindfulness are:

and you can find those three principals in Minor Whites quote.

Intention – active state of mind

Practicing mindfulness is often connected to “switching of the auto-pilot”. This means that one should live his life intentionally in a conscious was instead of letting himself be floated around from the own moods. Minor White also describes his state of mind as active, blank – not static empty.

Act Now! Here! – ready at an instant

You can only be “ready at an instant to grasp an image” when the own thoughts are Now! Here! and are not digressing in a dream. The only moment to take a photo is now and the only place is here.

Do not judge (hastily) – not pre-formed

In my opinion, the attempt not to judge hastily is the most difficult mindfulness-principle but also the most important one! Minor White also emphasizes this part of the “blank mind”. He says to “grasp an image” and to “conceive a life in it” is only possible without “pre-formed pattern or preconceived idea”, without a fast judgement.
Really? No judgment?

How do you choose which photo is suited to be shown and which photo should better be deleted from the memory card – without judging?

Never to judge anymore is obviously not the way to. THe important thing is not to “pre-form a pattern” for the subject or the photo. You have to separate the judgement process from the process of phtographing. Resist the habit of thinking “the first thing i have to know is the value aof the photo – is it good or bad?”. Rating the photo into an internal or an external (contest etc.) system has to come after the shot, not during preparation.

Photograph as a state of mind

Interestingly you can find many quotes with the topic “Photograph as a state of mind”, e.g. from Michael Dubiner:
Being a photographer is as much a state of mind.

This way photography can develop from a simple activity over a hobby to a approach to life with influence an the state of mind.