The Tao of Photography
Tao is literally “the way.” It can also mean the path or the journey. It is natural and spontaneous.
It is effortness action. It is the flow of the universe. Tao is within all of us.
Our photography journey should be like the Tao.
What is your photography journey? At the moment, mine is on a somewhat stifled trajectory (I thought) because of not just the pandemic but because of my husband’s illness as well as my own health.
But your limit is only limited by the limitness of your own mind. I felt stifled because we are at home and can not travel. But the reality is that you can shoot anywhere – in the kitchen shoot your coffeemaker and the frying of eggs, or the flowers in the front yard, in the ER Hospital waiting room, at the doctor’s, your children or dog in the backyard.The key is to document your journey whatever it is, wherever you are.
Ziran is a central tenet of Taoism. To go with the flow, we must free ourselves from desire and embrace simplicity. This means giving up all desire for exciting travel opportunities and shiny gear. I have finally contented myself with just using my iphone 12 Pro and a variety of apps.
I won’t be going to Macchu Picchu this year but I can chronicle my life as a caregiver which resonates with more people than going to trendy vacation spots.You can buy a calendar with fabulous photos of incredible scenery but no one can duplicate what is going on in your life at this moment but you.
Use what you have with the camera or phone you have.
It means to quit comparing yourself with other photographers or the people of Instagram. Get off Instagram and Tiktok unless you are actually making an income off of those timewasters. Time is better spent out documenting your journey!
Wu Wei Your Photography
Wu Wei is an underlying concept of Taoism meanimg go with the flow. It reflects the natural progression of things – action without action, or action without intent. I think of it as “natural action” – something that you do naturally, it isn’t forced or contrived. I use my iphone now as naturally as I use a spoon or fork.
Take whatever camera you have and exploit it for all it’s capabilities. It may be old but make the best photographs you can make with it. We all want the latest and best shiny equipment, but in reality it isn’t the best equipment that makes the most compelling pictures, it’s the photographer. As an example, there is a person on a local Facebook photography group who posts fantastic sunset photos. Her photos are as good as any professional photographer’s photo of a sunset. That is all she does, sunset photos. People constantly asked her the camera and settings she used. She finally answered that it was a Samsung cellphone with Snapseed app. Nothing fancy, no elaborate equipment – just a normal cellphone. She has taken that one subject matter – sunsets in Havasu – and absolutely owns it. She knows what settings to use and how to tweak every sunset to make her photographs simply outstanding.
Last spring my husband wanted to go to the park every day. I enjoyed that aspect of street photgraphy but wasn’t nimble enough on my feet to get up close and “in the moment” to capture what I considered good street shots. I finally realized I could zoom in and then tweak it in apps to make a compelling photo. Zoom in? Tweak in an app? That is heresy in the street photographer’s Playbook but I found that my photographs were mysterious and moody, far better than if I had been in the subject’s face.
In any event, I don’t consider myself a street photographer but a visual artist anyway. Photography labels are limiting and we don’t want limits.
The Universe Evolves and So Should We
The Tao sees the universe as constantly evolving and recreating itself. We are not the same person that we were last year. Our photography should reflect this.
Things change. We are employed then unemployed. We become a parent or grandparent. We have money then are penniless. We are healthy then we are sick. We live in a big house then live in an RV. Life moves on.
Recreate yourself constantly.
I had this limiting idea (so many limiting ideas!) that I shouldn’t take photos of my husband when he wasn’t at “his best.” So that meant no photos of him at doctor or during lab tests or at ER. We were just in an ER this week waiting for 10 hours! I could have been shooting the entire time but lost that opportunity because I didn’t want to show anybody in a “bad light.” The ridiculousness of that thought hit me like a red hot epiphany as soon as I got home.
Life is what it is, where you are. Life is not a superbloom in the Mojave. Life is not a casual stroll down a colorful neighborhood in Mexico. It’s nice if you can be there and catch that, but honestly, how many of the same-o same-o photos have we seen of those places? Don’t they seem contrived and phony? They are not gritty and real.
Life is where you are and who you are with.
Just. Go. Shoot. It.