Monday, June 2, 2008

In The Public

Copyright Aric Mayer, 2007

The camera gives a reason or a shape to the practice of looking. This kind of looking is not the passive tourist gaze but instead has a quality of searching. The world is in motion, places and events converge, and in the visual flux, you can make images that speak beyond the transient into something timeless. There is wholeness, poetry and authenticity in life itself.

The genre of street photography is built around work that is often wry, witty, ironic, powerful and sometimes condescending to its subjects. When one goes out into the world with a camera to make a statement, those are the inner places that you are often pushed towards. On the streets of New York City the very act of carrying a camera out to shoot is an adrenaline filled experience. You have to face the rush of events, open up to the sturm und drang that is evolving around you and somehow capture in your viewfinder a clear sense of what you find there.

To mature as a photographer working in the wilds of the public arena, one has to grow to manage this emotional high without burning out on it. You have to gain the strength that it takes to shoot in public while finding an inner place where you can sustain your own voice amidst the pressures of all that is around you. This can take many forms. Do you try to dominate the world? Submit to it? Own it?

For me a zen practice enters into the process. Like practicing sitting in an airport lounge. If one can be there in the muddle of transitory and frustrated humanity, one can do the same in the camera on the street. In the airport, sitting cross legged on the floor as the world rushes around you, the world is not shut out, but it is allowed to be what it is, and you sitting there find yourself in relation to it, and separate from it, and again as a part of it. The whole breaks into the parts and comes back again to the whole. This is no mountaintop retreat to stillness. Life with its brute, weary complexities presses in. You must let the world be. Embrace it all, but have the strength to know yourself in relation to it. Be a part of it and be separate from it. The world must not dominate you, although it can never be beaten.

Once you establish the inner strength to practice going in the world and looking with a lens, you find that your relationship with the world starts to change. The chaos diminishes. A sense of partnership begins to form. Every time you go out looking a new facet of existence may emerge. There is less struggle and more discovery.

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