Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Tao Of Photography

by Richard Spears


The Silent Void

Thus spake the Master Photographer: "When you have learned to create art with your camera, it will be time for you to leave."

Something mysterious is formed, born in the silent void. Waiting alone and unmoving, it is at once still and yet in constant motion. It is the source of all beauty and art. It is the light. It is the shadows of darkness. I do not know its name, so I will call it the Tao of Photography. If the Tao is great, then the composition is great. If the composition is great, then the exposure is great. If the exposure is great, then the image is great. The client is pleased, and there is harmony in the world. The Tao of Photography flows far away and returns on the wind of morning.

The Tao gave birth to the camera obscura. Camera Obscura gave birth to the dry plate. The dry plate gave birth to the Kodak Brownie. Now there are ten thousand cameras. Each camera has its purpose, however humble. Each brand and format expresses the Yin and Yang of software. Each camera has its place within the Tao. But if you can afford it, get a Hasselblad.

In the beginning was the Tao. The Tao gave birth to Light and Dark. Therefore Light and Dark are the Yin and Yang of Photography. Photographers that do not comprehend the Tao are always chasing the light. Photographers that comprehend the Tao always have enough Light to accomplish their goals. How could it be otherwise?

The wise photographer is told about Tao and follows it. The average photographer is told about Tao and searches for it. The foolish photographer is told about Tao and laughs at it. If it were not for laughter, there would be no Tao. The highest sounds are hardest to hear. Going forward is a way to retreat. Great talent shows itself late in life. Even a perfect photograph can be ugly.


The Ancient Masters

Thus spake the Master photographer:

 "After three days without Photography, life becomes meaningless."

The photographers of old were mysterious and profound. We cannot fathom their thoughts, so all we do is describe their appearance. Aware, like a fox crossing the water. Alert, like a general on the battlefield. Kind, like a hostess greeting her guests. Simple, like uncarved blocks of wood. Opaque, like black pools in darkened caves. Who can tell the secrets of their hearts and minds? The answer exists only in Tao.

The Grand Master Adams once said: "When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. "When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence"

A photographer from a very large newspaper went to a photography conference and then returned to report to his manager, saying: "What sort of photographers work for other companies? They behaved badly and were unconcerned with appearances. Their hair was long and unkempt and their clothes were wrinkled and old. They crashed our hospitality suite and they made rude noises during my presentation." The manager said: "I should have never sent you to the conference. Those photographers live beyond the physical world. They consider life absurd, an accidental coincidence. They come and go without knowing limitations. Without a care, they live only for their art. Why should they bother with social conventions? They are alive within the Tao."

A novice asked the Master: "I saw a video by Master Arias. He has never had his work on the cover of a magazine. He does not seek fame or fortune. He does not advertise in any trade magazines. He has not written any books! Yet all who know him consider him one of the best photographers in the world. Why is this?" The Master replied: "Master Arias has gone beyond the need for fame; he does not seek to become rich. He accepts the universe without concern. He photographs only to please himself. He no longer cares if anyone else sees his work. Each of his images are perfect within themselves, serene and elegant, their purpose self-evident. Truly, he has entered the mystery of Tao"


Gear Lust

Thus spake the Master photographer:
        "Better equipment will not make you a better photographer."

There once was a man who went to the Photokina trade show. Inside, vendors from around the world displayed the newest technology. Each day as he entered, the man told the guard at the door: "I am a great thief, renowned for my feats of shoplifting. Be forewarned, for this trade show shall not escape unplundered." This speech disturbed the guard greatly, because there were millions of dollars of camera and light equipment inside, so he watched the man carefully. But the man merely wandered from booth to booth, humming quietly to himself. When the man left, the guard took him aside and searched his clothes, but nothing was to be found. On the next day of the trade show, the man returned and chided the guard, saying: "I escaped with a vast booty yesterday, but today will be even better." So the guard watched him ever more closely, but to no avail. Every securty camera watched the man's movements. On the final day of the trade show, the guard could restrain his curiosity no longer. "Sir Thief," he said, "I am so perplexed, I cannot live in peace. Please enlighten me. What is it that you are stealing?" The man smiled. "I am stealing ideas" he said.

There was once a novice photographer who was unhappy with the quality of his work. He noticed another photographer was using a very expensive lens. He saved his money and eventually bought the lens. He read in a magazine that a new camera body had been developed that had three times the resolution that his had. He took out a loan and purchased the new camera. "Master, I have purchased the finest lenses. I have the best camera body in the land. I have bought the most expensive light kit that is offered. Yet my photographs are still blurry." The master slapped the novice and walked away. Being stupid should be painful.



Thus spake the Master photographer:
        "To thine own self be true, 
        and it must follow, as the night the day, 
        thou canst not then be false to any man."

An apprentice asked the Master: "I have been reading about a photographer in California who people are calling a "Rock Star" wedding photographer. Yet her work seems to be only mediochre. After being a photographer for only four years, she is now teaching. This seems odd. " The Master replied: "Beware the false masters. They do not follow the Tao, they pursue money and fame. In the end, they will have neither. Only a fool will follow another fool. While they tell you to be yourself, they will be copying the work of others." "How can I recognize the false masters?" Asked the apprentice "It will be obvious that their greatest talent will be talking about themselves."

A novice asked the Master: "I understand and use the 'Rule of Thirds', my photographs are always properly focused, and properly exposed. Yet my images are not well received by my peers. Another photographer breaks all the rules. His images are often over exposed and his composition is bizarre. Yet his photographs are brilliant and beautiful. I do not understand." The Master replied: "You are confused because you do not understand Tao. Only after you understand the Tao can you break the rules. Until you become one with your camera, you will have to think about settings. A master does not concern himself with settings any more than you would think about how to turn on a light switch. The rules of Photography are transitory; only Tao is eternal. Therefore, you must contemplate Tao before you receive Enlightenment." "But how will I know when I have received Enlightenment?" asked the novice. "Each photograph will be perfect without trying.



Thus spake the Master photographer:
 "The Novice struggles with work. The Master's work flows like water."

A well-used door needs no oil on its hinges. A swift-flowing stream does not grow stagnant. A deer blends perfectly into the forest colors. A camera produces nothing if not used. These are great mysteries.

Does a good farmer neglect a crop he has planted? Does a good teacher overlook even the most humble student? Does a good father allow a single child to starve? Does a good photographer refuse to post process?

The Master says "My computer enables me to work smoothly and efficiently. Unfortunately, it has Facebook on it."

The Master photographer moves from project to project without fear. He does not know when or if he will get his next client. The master takes photographs every day. Why is this? He is filled with Tao.


Hardware and Software

Thus spake the Master photographer:
        "Without the wind, the grass does not move.  
        Without a camera, a photographer is useless."

A novice asked the Master: "I perceive that one camera company is much larger than all others. It towers above its competition like a giant among dwarfs. Any one of its divisions could comprise an entire business. Why is this so?" The Master replied, "Why do you ask such foolish questions? That company is large because it is large. If it only made camera bodies, nobody would buy it. If it only made lenses, nobody would use them. If it only repaired components, people would treat it like a servant. But because it combines all of these things, people think it one of the gods! By not seeking to strive, it conquers without effort."

A Master photographer passed a novice photographer one day. The Master noted the novice's preoccupation with an iPhone. "Excuse me," he said, "may I examine it?" The novice bolted to attention and handed the device to the Master. "I see that the device claims to have 12 megapixels. It will simulate HDR, and has filter effects." said the Master. "It also contains a secret setting that allows the user to take professional quality beautiful images." "Pray, Great Master," implored the novice, "how does one find this mysterious setting?" The Master dropped the device to the ground and crushed it with his heel. Suddenly the novice was enlightened.

The camera met Photoshop on the road to Austin. Camera said: "You are Yin and I am Yang. If we travel together, we will become famous and earn vast sums of money." And so they set forth together, thinking to conquer the world. Presently, they met Creativity, who was dressed in tattered rags and hobbled along propped on a thorny stick. Creativity said to them: "The Tao lies beyond Yin and Yang. It is silent and still as a pool of water. It does not seek fame; therefore, nobody knows its presence. It does not seek fortune, for it is complete within itself. It exists beyond Light and Dark." Camera and Photoshop, ashamed, returned to their homes.



Thus spake the Master photographer:
              "Time for you to leave."

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