Photography and Awareness

Sidmouth SeagullI have been a photographer most of my life but only made it into a business 10 years ago after a heart attack left me unsure whether I was going to be able to continue as a furniture maker. As it was, I carried on making furniture until 2 years ago when I took the leap and made photography a full time business.

I have practiced meditation for over 30 years but only discovered the Shambhala path about 16 years ago. Now I was able to stop searching, stop dipping in and out of other Buddhist paths – the Shambhala path seemed to fit.

In some ways it is hard to see how the Shambhala teachings have affected my work because they are such an integral part of my life; embedded in all that I do and affecting all that I do. I see my life as a continuous journey of awakening – although the path may be two steps forward and one step back and even feels circular at times – and photography is one tool on this journey.

When I am photographing something I use the teachings on mindfulness and awareness to stay present, just as we do in meditation. Having an understanding that the inherent nature of mind is vivid, still and clear is helpful. Working from this mind space means my pictures are more likely to communicate to the viewer the essence of what I am photographing.

It also helps me to know that any restlessness or disturbance of the mind is just that. If I am anxious or pre-occupied in any way then this becomes an intrusion on reality and acts just like the filter on the front of a lens. It clouds or dulls the mind as well as the resulting image.

Colin Tracy AbstractWhen I look at a photograph of mine, I can tell whether my mind was clear of not. I am moved by an ‘unfiltered’ image and I know others are too. This image, ‘Leaf in Ice’, once moved a woman to tears. She wasn’t able to say what it was that caused her to be touched in this way but something of the essence spoke to her.

When working in such a heart-felt way there is a real sense of ‘going beyond me’; there is no separation between subject and object, just a glorious sense of being at one with; the journey becomes a sacred journey and the camera a sacred object.

As with all aspects of the path this is a work in progress! Some days are cloudy and some days are clear.  One of the most helpful teachings is to simply see and experience the ever-changing play of mind with a sense of wonder, curiosity and appreciation. Then I don’t take myself so seriously and my work has a freshness and vitality.

Colin Tracy is a photographer and teacher. The next series of his Basic Camera Skills workshops will run in the Autumn. Day One, Beyond the Automatic Setting is on September 26th 2015. Day Two, Light and Composition, follows a fortnight later on Saturday 10th October. An Introduction to Contemplative Photography, Day Three is on October 24th 2015. All are held at the Borough Gardens House in Dorchester, Dorset. Further information can be found on his website

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