Taking pictures on the street is like a form of meditation for me and although my goal is to take beautiful pictures, it is also a form of self-therapy and stress relieve. From my experience, a lot of people never reach their personal “Zen Status” and aren’t able to live right in the moment only to take pictures. They are distracted by their smartphone, distressed by their camera settings or simply aren’t in the right mood to go for a walk and take images. Street Photography is primarily for me to relax, forget all the problems and regain energy for the everyday work life. The photos are more a byproduct of this special state of mind than a detailed crafted item. In the following text, my goal is to show you how you can reach the zen status and how it benefits your photography, but also your mental state.
What does the Zen Status mean to me?
The term is pretty ambiguous but I already hinted that it comes very close to some kind of meditation. Therefore I want to share how meditation is described in the following quote on Wikipedia that comes very close to my own interpretation of the zen status.
A particularly ambitious form of meditation aims at effortlessly sustained single-pointed concentration meant to enable its practitioner to enjoy an indestructible sense of well-being while engaging in any life activity.
In our case, that single-pointed concentration is aimed at Street Photography. Describing the Zen Status in my own words I would put a huge emphasis on eliminating every distraction possible. On the base, there shouldn’t be anything other in your mind than searching for the next photo and living right in the moment. Any problem that you faced at work, any issue that you came across recently, is none of your business when you are out on the street.
Why is the mental status so important?
Maybe you are thinking what the heck I am talking about and that it sounds too mystical for you to try out. But let me tell you that this status is one reason for the difference between a “snapshooter” and a photographer. Street Photography is a very demanding task and requires your full concentration. Walking in the cities, we are overloaded with outside impressions that need to be processed.
In order to not miss any great juxtaposition or scene that is interesting enough to photograph and show the world, we need to put 100% of our attention into the moment. My task is to show the beauty in the mundane. Most pedestrians numb themselves to escape the moment and transfer them to a better place far far away. Therefore they aren’t realizing what they are missing, which beautiful or funny situations they aren’t seeing because they numb their mind with distractions. As Street Photographers our duty is to show them those lost pieces of beauty that are right next to them.
The most helpful action you can take to fully concentrate on the active time on the street is to make sure you won’t have any distractions incoming for the time you are photographing. This means if you have any important emails waiting for a reply that you should answer them beforehand, instead of procrastinating and brood over the right text. In general, you should consider that time frame photographing out there as your personal time that fully is yours.
Smartphones are a great leap in technology, but also are the main source of distractions. As much as we think that we need to be contactable at any time, is this really necessary? We should be able to survive for a few hours without reading or answering the incoming messages and the world won’t suddenly collapse. Therefore I recommend using the flight mode or something similar when you are doing Street Photography. Having the bad habit of checking your Smartphone constantly means that you are pulled out of your progress to reach the zen status over and over again.
In classic meditation, you try to notice when your mind and thoughts aren’t right at the moment anymore. Whenever your thoughts drift away from taking pictures, force yourself to look out for the next photo opportunity. It might be exhausting at first because there is so much our mind might distract us, but over time you will notice how it will get easier to focus on one thing only and stay sharp for a few hours.
Before going on the street you should make clear, that every factor that you are able to influence has been set optimally. For me, this means that the batteries of my camera are fully charged, that the camera settings are right where I need them and I have taken care of any problem with my gear that might arise.
Movies to get in the mood
A huge part for me to motivate myself when I am not feeling like taking pictures or the weather is letting me down is watching other photographers conquering the street. As soon as I watch them getting the best pictures with their enthusiasm to search for even better situations it makes me jealous and kind of forces me to go out. Another big part of some of the documentaries about Street Photographers is the lifestyle itself. These movies from the 80s or even earlier have some documenting value itself showing how the life was back then, not only from a photographer’s perspective but in general.
Probably the most memorable movie about Street Photography itself featuring photographers from New York City. I featured the movie in a separate blog article where I describe the movie more thoroughly.
Finding Vivian Maier
More about the person Vivian Maier than Street Photography as a genre, but interesting nonetheless. The movie shows the life of an unknown nanny that wanders through the streets of Chicago in search of memorable moments. During her lifetime she tried to pitch the pictures to various editors, but it wasn’t after her death and the discovery of John Maloof that her images got worldwide recognition.
1981 Joel Meyerowitz
One of the featured photographers in Everybody Street, Joel Meyerowitz also got his very own documentary showing his work in 1981. As an early adopter of color film photography, he presents his insight why he sees colors as vital for his pictures.
Into the Belly Of The Beast
A beautiful movie about the Sydney based Street Photographer Markus Andersen following him on a sunny day taking images that put an emphasize on the high contrast between shadows and light. Outstanding is the choice of music that really flows well with the narration of Markus Andersen and the pictures that are great.
WNYC Street shots Bruce Gilden
One of the first short clips that I saw about Street Photography. Crazy to see this man taking pictures with a flash so close that he must be scared to get knocked out any given moment. Instead, he also gives directions to the people he is photographing and absolutely owns the street.
Whether it is music, movies or some good article – whatever brings you in the right mood for some Street Photography also helps you to reach your personal “Zen Status”. Focus right on the moment to notice memorable situations that will be hidden to those that numb their senses and rather escape from reality.
The reality is what we make out of it and it is our duty to show the world what hidden gems lie directly beneath them.