Zurich put on a beautiful fireworks display to usher in the New Year.
Being on the balcony seems in the distant past. While there is a part of me that wants to leave it there (especially since I have been away), I did commit to do a reflection of the process in order to tease out some of my most significant learning. I want to honour that commitment.
How it started
The first thought that I have as I begin writing, is that the project started as a personal, private endeavour. I took my first photograph looking out into the distant, expansive East. After taking the photograph, I remember reading about a photographer who took (I think) 30 photographs of the same scene, in the same place, at the same time, and looked at the change that unfolded across the photographs taken. While this activated my thinking regarding the project, I felt I needed a slightly different challenge. I did not feel inspired to always set up the camera in the same way, with the same lens, and take the same scene with the same camera settings.
As I looked out from the balcony, my predominant thought was that there was so much in front of me. I wondered what I would capture if I took 30 photographs from the same place (on the balcony) and at the same time period (18h00 – 19h00)? There was a vast, complex sea of visual information that surrounded me. The question of where my eyes would look and what photograph would emerge intrigued me.
I wanted the process to expand and challenge my usual ways of looking at the world.
After taking my first 3 or 4 photographs, only then did I decide to share my experience through my blog articles. As part of my blog, I also decided to extend the challenge and see what meaningful life lesson (if any) would be triggered by the photograph that I had taken.
Walking onto the balcony
Before walking onto the balcony, I never could anticipate what photograph I would take. So I could not plan for each day. In fact, the process called for me to do the opposite and walk onto the balcony with no preconceived thoughts about what would unfold.
As I walked onto the balcony, I thought of myself as a blank, clean canvass that was going to be imprinted. I needed to be open to what the visual field would offer me.
Being on the balcony
Once I stepped onto the balcony, my intention was to create. A significant part of the creative process is performance. On a basic level, performance and creation are processes that have an end result. Since the end result is a consequence of the dynamic interaction between oneself and the environment (while doing a task or playing a game against an opposition), it is impossible to know exactly what the end product would be.
On a general level, I experienced one of three emotional and mental states during the creation (performance) process. Before walking onto the balcony, I could not predict what mental and emotional process I would go through. In other words, I never knew what was in store for me.
- There were about 5/6 photographs that I almost instantaneously knew that I would take as soon as I stepped onto the balcony. It was as if my visual and mental system connected immediately to a certain aspect of the vast visual field that was flirting with me. It acted as a magnet, which seemed to result in an immediate picture in my mind, which in turn, gave me clarity of how the photograph should be. These were powerful synergistic moments, where little effort or thought was required to take the photograph. I was mentally clear, emotionally calm and had no doubts that my mental map and the actual photograph (end product) would match. This could be defined as the calm, clear, knowing state that is in touch with the unfolding reality just before it manifests itself. It can be likened to a premonition.
- There were other days when I just sat and looked around not knowing if I would be able to get a photograph. I found myself searching and looking around to see what I could photograph. It was hard work during these times since I seemed to be consciously forcing the process. I was trying too hard. I felt an inner panic as I searched. This process was emotionally taxing.
- There were times, when I patiently sat on the balcony, not knowing, yet not worrying about what sort of photograph would emerge. This was a calm, not-knowing emotional and mental state. While waiting patiently in this state, something invariably jumped out of the visual field and caught my eye. It was as if the visual world presented me with a gift.
To expand further, if I had to quantify the percentage of each of the above states that I found myself in, I would say approximately 20% (6 out of 30 photographs) was in the clear, knowing state; about 50% was in the panicked, not-knowing state; while 30% was in the patient, calm, not-knowing state.
The second state was more dynamic, fluid and/or chaotic than the other two states. The challenge for me was to see if I could shift my panic into a more calmer place. I would guess that I was probably successful in about 33% of the cases. For the rest, I had to learn to live and embrace my unease as the process unfolded (and not to panic about the panic). This is a mental skill that many top athletes possess: the ability to embrace the internal panic without dropping the standard of their performance.
Despite being in one or other of these states, I was still able to produce a satisfactory, meaningful photograph at the end of every day. If I had known this before, it may have helped me to relax more in those times when I had so much doubt about not being able to produce anything.
Taking the photographs
My first and last photographs were the easiest. The first photograph was an obvious one. Our eyes always see the obvious first. As I walked onto the balcony for my last photograph, I knew that I wanted to incorporate and capture all that was before me. While it may not have been obvious, my mindset was very clear about what I wanted to do. My clear mindset, created a clear picture that could be translated through my eyes into my environment, to create the photograph that I envisioned.
On some days, I took a number of shots of one particular scene (maybe using different lenses and focal lengths) and then decided on the best one once I had loaded them onto my computer.
On other days, I took some shots of one scene, then changed my focus and shot another scene and so on; eventually arriving at a scene that felt right to me.
I noticed a number of patterns while on the balcony. There were bird patterns, plane patterns, sun and moon movement patterns. Certain birds, for example, flew overhead at approximately the same time every day, flying in the same direction. Once I had photographed a plane, for example, the possibility of taking a photograph of another plane was excluded in the future. This was a self-imposed decision that I took since I did not want repetition and instead, wanted my photographs to reflect the diversity of reality that surrounded me. While this decision made it more difficult for me since I was reducing my options over time, it forced me to look in different places thus opening up other possibilities.
Taking the photographs reminded me of the mining and exploration process (for resources). In the beginning, you have a vast expanse of easily accessible resource. But as time moves on, you are challenged more and more to refine your search of the resource since you have already consumed or exhausted what was easily accessible.
Loading the photographs on the computer
The number of photographs taken on each day varied. Understandably, there were more photographs taken on those days when I was consciously searching for a scene to take. It was as if my panic had increased my efforts and in turn increased the quantity of photographs taken.
However, having taken more photographs did not seem to improve my chances of finding better quality. The idea of just shooting as much as you can to eventually find the winner did not apply to me.
The life message of the photograph
The life message jumped out at me as I saw the photograph that I wanted to post in my blog article. For me, the words and the image seemed to complement each other. I felt that this integration helped to convey a meaningful message.
Recently, I spent an afternoon in a skate park in Zurich. Taking some photographs of one of the skateboarders reminded me of the excitement, challenge and joy of the creative process. Outstanding performance has no limits, it is an ongoing endeavour.