Artist Inspirations, The Art of Philosophy

Honest Photography: how to photograph with a free mind

Part 1. Kosuke Okahara on photographing with a free mind

“If there’s a pure form of documentary photography, the picture should not be influenced by any preexisting visions.”

Having been working on a story about the impact of drugs on local community in various parts of Columbia for 13 years, Kosuke Okahara became able to predict the kind of scenes that he would see even though he was in different towns, and in the way he would frame the images.

“It’s like I was trying to see what I’ve seen already… it’s almost like I’m copying myself…”

“I asked myself – am I documenting or am I just taking pictures of the situation that I kind of wanted to see… ” he quoted. 

A former aspiring Olympic skier whom became a W. Eugene Smith Fellowship recipient, Japanese photographer Kosuke Okahara shared his struggle with the philosophical dilemma he had with documentary photography, and his journey to finding his ways through making the work The Blue Affair

© Kosuke Okahara, from the photobook ‘The Blue Affair’; Source @ Kosuke Okahara Website

The Blue Affair is a a work with photographs taken in Koza, the heart of Okinawa, which gave Okahara the refreshing sense of being a photographer with a beginner’s mind again. The repeated visits without a specific purpose in producing a story somehow led to the people, the conversations, the happenings he encountered from this place infiltrating his dreams — as if these were symbolic gestures in nudging him to return, and at the same time, to relight his inner flame and re-experience again the joy of just pure photography.   

“… being more conscious takes one away from the purpose while getting ride of the purpose is the only way to get closer to the intent. In that sense, documentary is like a tragedy of fate. Achieving by losing – like a Shakepearean play.” —extract from the afterword written by Tatsuya Ishikawa, of the photo book The Blue Affair by Kosuke Okahara. 

Are we really creating images from a fresh eye every time we shoot, or are we already building on from pre-existing images of what to be seen? How can we be more aware when the way we photograph becomes purposeful rather than being open and honest with what is there to be seen? And how can we remove ourselves from the position of already knowing and begin again with a beginner’s mind? These are the questions to ponder, and with the blue affair, Okahara has shown us that it is possible.

Going through The Blue Affair book gave me chills. It’s the kind of book that gives you a visual journey in a way that you are drawn in as if you were present with the photographer, experiencing what he was experiencing at the same time. That’s the kind of work I aspire to work towards, because the work that one would remember the most, are the ones that are felt.

His recommended Photobook:  Rasen Kaigan by Leiko Shiga

Please check out his work:

Website: https://www.kosukeokahara.com / IG: @kosukeokahara

To be continued… Part 2. Teju Cole on embracing chance in a confined time

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Slow Looking, The Art of Philosophy

Can we look at a tree without the image of the tree?

I.

Ever since I came to know Krishnamurti (thanks to a friend who introduced me to him), this question he pointed out has been stuck in my mind ever since. 

“Can we look at a tree without the image of the tree?”

Can we really look at a tree, without translating it with our own terminology, categories or temperament? Just looking – just seeing what’s in front of us – seeing what is actually taking place, and feeling it without words of interpretations?

II.

It reminds me of another piece of reading that I loved by Brian Massumi on the autonomy of affect. 

“A man builds a snowman on his roof garden. It starts to melt in the afternoon sun. He watches. After a time, he takes the snowman to the cool of the mountains, where it stops melting. He bids it good-bye, and leaves.” 

Researchers took this short-film and turned it into 3 versions: the original voiceless version and 2 with added voice-overs (one factual and one emotional) and gave them to a group of 9 years old children to watch. What was astonishing from this finding was that the original non-verbal version elicited the greatest response from the children’s skin, the factual voice-over was the least unpleasant and the emotional voice-over was the most remembered. The result clearly showed us that our body responds to what we see before the formation of words. And then with the addition of words, they amplify or dampen what is being seen. Even with factual descriptions, it linearised what and how the images were being looked at, and in turn became an interpretation of what we see. 

Note: In the case of watching a film, we are looking at consciously indexed moving images. This means that there’s an intent of how those images were framed when creating the film for the audience to look at. But the takeaway here is that – what we see produces a primitive affect prior to any input of words, whether we are consciously aware or not.

III.

So, can we look at a tree without the image of the tree?

Zheng Bo, a Hong Kong-based artist, who spent his art practice working with plants mentioned that, the whole point of his daily rituals of drawing plants, is so that he can look and study the plants. He said that his artworks of plants are of no mastery of craftsmanship, but the experience of daily pencil-drawing of the plants made him slow down and look at the plants closely. He was documenting his experience of looking at plants. 

IV.

As a photographer and a psychologist, I’m fascinated by looking – the way we see – the images we form both mentally and physically. With this question in mind, I did an experiment with photographs, with the intention of just looking at trees. 

I picked a tree randomly and began looking at it from the bottom, where the roots are, then moving up to its branches and observed how they separate, and finally gazed upon the leaves and the fruits. And then I realised, the moment I took a photograph was the moment that I compared it with my mental image of a tree. I was photographing something that’s outside of my mental image of trees as new knowledge for me to keep. After this realisation, I then decided to not photograph anything and just observed. I watched my thoughts while I was just looking at this one particular tree, and I saw myself comparing that with what I know about trees, “oh the branches on this tree have such irregular shapes!” “the roots here are super interesting, they look like claws” etc. It seemed like the space between the looking and the thoughts is abducted, or maybe I just wasn’t aware enough of the gap in between. So I tried again. This time with a different tree. At first I did the same thing – I started from the roots and slowed moved up my gaze. Then I noticed the moment I took the phone out it changed the way I was looking at the tree. The act became purposeful in capturing something. So instead, I started all over but this time using my phone camera live view as a lens to observe the tree. I zoomed in as if I leaned forward; and zoomed out as if I took a step back to see the whole tree. Then at those moments where I was just looking with my mind emptied, I pressed the shutter. Something magical happened. The captured images have this sense of deadpan and mundane. They are really just ordinary, and at the same time I’m fascinated. I bet these are some of the images that one wouldn’t even spend a second and swipe to the next. 

V.

Looking at a tree, without the image of the tree, documenting it as an image, and looking at the tree in the image. What do you see?

Reference: 

Art Asia Pacific. (2021). Zheng Bo: Life is hard, why do we make it so easy? [Video]. Retrieved 8 June 2021, from http://artasiapacific.com/Projects/ZhengBoLifeIsHardWhyDoWeMakeItSoEasy.

Krishmurati, J., 2020. A mind free of ‘me’. Retrieved 8 June 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88ewKAjk7sg&t=1001s at 16:25 

Massumi, B. (1995). The Autonomy of Affect. Cultural Critique, (31), 83-109. doi:10.2307/1354446

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The Art of Philosophy

Alone

How often do you spend time alone?

Not alone watching tv, or reading a book, or doing exercises…

but alone with your body, alone with your own thoughts and alone with your own soul?

Just you being in present, and being aware of that, and then being okay with it?

What we spend most of the time is to escape that state. We either turn to TVs, or alcohols, or social media etc. It feels as if we constantly need to be “doing something”, “feeding or numbing our brain”.

Why are we so afraid of being with our own mind, and being with ourselves? Maybe we are afraid of not liking who we really are? Or afraid of loosing time? Afraid of emotions outlet? Or…?

One thing I can say is, when you do, when you do start to spend time with yourself, and with your soul, and with the present of time. It’s addictive. You don’t get enough of it. And you want more. You finally connect to the “you” inside. The true you. And that encounter is a bliss. Creativity blossoms. And it’s unique to you. And yours alone.

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The Art of Philosophy

A great photograph.

If you study enough, the patterns is like this. Most, I do mean most, of the masters of photography point towards the same direction for making a great photograph:

“Photograph with your soul.”

Only then you get to have your own voice. Only then it is genuine. Only then it’s something that you care the most and you would be so passionate in shooting.

So how do you get closer to your soul? Or, how do you shoot with your soul?

First, reading more photographs won’t give you that. However excellent you are at interpreting other’s work, or knowing their work… that’s their work. What they are passionate about. Their voice.

Your voice? You have to look inside yourself. You have to look at your experiences. And what interest you. Not other people. Experience. Go out to the world and interact. You won’t know until you are pack full of experiences and on the way figuring out who you are. Nothing will come by when you just study.

So. Find your voice. Find your photography.

No one can help you other than you yourself.

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Poetry, The Art of Philosophy

Karma. 

The results of today,
is what you did yesterday.
Do good deeds, and one day
you’ll have the fruits that you seed.

Everything is a journey,
to whom you eventually want to become.
Love all the mysteries,
for what you can’t control,
often are the ones that leave a big history.

Enjoy the ride,
follow the ups and downs,
Someday soon,
all there is will come around.

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The Art of Philosophy

Root. 

Nature is what it is.

Bird sings, you don’t ask why they don’t paint;
Tree grows on the ground, they don’t grow on clouds;
Dandelions are dandelions, they are not sunflowers;
Leave falls in Autumn, snow comes in the Winter;

Everything is what they are. Because that is what they are. That is the law of nature.

Human beings. They are the complex ones. Because they have the power to manipulate what are, to what may.

We manipulate our being, to what’s happening around us.
We suck at Maths, but you have to do extra classes for school;
We are told to control our emotions, but you have a wild horse inside;
We are asked to extrovert, but really you just want to stay alone;

We became having to e.g. at least pass Maths, minimise your sensitivity and to socialise…

When do we ever ask our hearts, for guiding who we truly are?

If you are a bird, be a bird. Don’t be a sheep.
If your element is Art, do art. Don’t try to be good at maths.
If you are sensitive, use your sensitivity. Don’t try to demolish it.
If you are an introvert, be that. Don’t try to outgrow yourself.

Go to the root where you are grounded. Forget the pretty branches and flowers. When you have a strong root, you will grow your own beautiful fruits.

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The Art of Philosophy

Conditional Love. 

Is love conditional? Or unconditional?

Some people say, everything you love is conditional. Either it’s because externally eg someone is being nice to you, you get something in return… or internally, you want to feel good, you want to be identified as that character of a person.

Let’s say, you love your son. The condition is he’s your son. That’s why you love him. You love him because he laughs, he makes you happy. But what happens when he cries? Do you still love him even thought you hate the fact that he’s screaming all night long? Yes, because knowledge tells you that he knows nothing, and you are accommodating to him because of that. So now, what if there’s a language that you have a way of knowing what he’s thinking as a baby? That he isn’t innocent, he was crying just to piss-you-off. Do you still love him? What was the condition then? Do you still love him based on his behaviour and his thoughts behind it? Or do you base your love with the condition that you set out in the beginning “he’s my son”?

Now the question is, if it is the latter, do you still call that conditional love?

Love is an emotion. An emotion is a constant state. Affection on the other hand, is a feeling, a fleeting state. Maybe you can’t show affection to your baby at the example above at that moment but you will still love him, because he’s your son.

Love, love is showing affection, and showing affection based on how much time you give. We all have the same amount of time every day. That’s constant and quantifiable.

To me therefore,

Love, is the time you give to something or someone by showing affection based either on external or internal rewards.

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The Art of Philosophy

Love and Hate

There will always be love and hate with any relationships: things, places, people and yourself. You love and you hate short hair. You love and hate Chinese food. You love and hate photography. You love and hate this person.

If you don’t have that, then you are numbed. Either because you just became indifferent or there are no other choices. When there are other options out there, during the hate time, you’ll always see better things in the alternatives. And if there are no alternatives, you can’t love or hate it because that’s the only thing you get. But this rarely happens.

So it’s undeniable, the love-hate tug of war.

But the thing is, you must love it/him/her more than you hate it. Because that is the only thing that can keep you going through the hate times. That the love is much bigger and enough to make you tolerate the hate times. So now, here’s the question,

What is it that you love the most? That no matter how bad it can be, you will still love it? 

What are the fundamental qualities / reasons / values / beliefs that are core to you, that no matter what else has changed, these will still be the very things that you stand by and you love?

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The Art of Philosophy

Passion

What excites you to get up in the morning to start the day?

What is the very thing(s) that you love so much that you cannot live without, and that’s what keeps you going in life?

Your passion? What is it?

Passion (noun)

  1. strong and barely controllable emotions
    • a state or outburst of strong emotions.
    • an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.
    • a thing arousing great enthusiasm.

Have you ever felt something or someone so intensely that you cannot even control your feelings? It’s like this burning fire inside you, or a roaring lion that lives inside you that’s trying to escape. It is something, or someone, that makes you feel so strongly that nothing can compromise. And that it’s meant to be. Your mission here on Earth. Your the one. In this logical world, the majority of the people see passion as something that you need to control. You have to… tame your emotions. Dial it down. Balance.

Somewhere I read and it says “Some people are not meant to be tamed. They are meant to run wild until they find someone just as wild to run with.”

If you are passionate about something, or someone, go for it. Don’t let the majority stops you because being crazy and loosing your sanity is okay. Every emotion is beautiful. Love it. Own it. Enjoy it.

Remember this: You can loose anything – people, money, courage, confidence… but you cannot loose passion. When you loose or give up your passion, you give up hope of living.

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The Art of Philosophy

The talk. 

Just because you can’t say something doesn’t mean you don’t want to. 

You may very much want to. 

The thing is, what you want may not be what the other person want. The same thing goes the other way round. And that’s why we need communications. You can say that’s the beauty with human beings. Or you can say that’s the frustration with people. 

Some people give up and turn to art e.g. music, dance, photography, poetry etc. Because all of this is too much to take, and get good at, and strike the correct balance. Communication itself is an art. 

How do you get it right? Be good at it? You practice. You make mistakes and learn from it. You try and try and try again. It’s the same with getting good at doing different things. Getting good at photography, or being excellent in woodwork crafting, or excel in doing business and stock markets. You do the deed. 

But exactly how much time do you have to spend on them? 

If you are lucky, or more so, stubborn, you focus on just being good at one thing. And spend almost your entire time in it. Even if you are not a master of it, you’d be good at it. No matter what it is. 

When you start to have more things you want to be good at, you spread your time between them. And if you are lucky and smart, you’ll still be good at them but just takes longer, or most likely the case is you’ll just be mediocre at these things. 

So, do you want to be good at something? Or be mediocre in a few things? 

I, I just want to be good at connecting with my heart, whether that’s through making soulful photographs, writing my thoughts or creating melodies.  

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