Feature Book:​ Zen and the Magic of Photography: Learning to See and Be through Photography

Updated: Oct 30, 2018

by Wayne Rowe

The book Zen and the Magic of Photography: Learning to See and to Be through Photography by Wayne Rowe is a study in photographic Zen.

Lovers of poetry, especially Haiku, and old movies will especially love this book.

The major theme throughout the book is finding the moment of Satori – the moment of truth or enlightenment in your photographs. Waiting to take a photograph when the elements align to tell a story. Waiting to take a photograph when the moment feels right.

Rowe addresses this theme in a number of different ways: by analyzing photos by documentary photographers such as Sebastião Salgado, layering photography and poetry, and describing poignant scenes from classic movies. He also provides examples of photographs created when he has experienced this moment of Zen in his own photographic work.

Rowe introduces the concepts of The Third Effect in his book. This is when two elements of a photograph come together to create a third meaning (1+1=3). He provides a couple of examples that show how using juxtaposition can create a deeper level of meaning.

Rowe encourages a type of analysis where details rise from the photo and speak to the viewer. His style of analysis encourages a long look at a photograph, taking in all the details and how those details relate to each other. The process made me curious about my own photography. I chose a photo that excited me, one that felt “right” regardless of the technique used to capture the image. I really looked at the details of this photograph to discover why I liked it so much. Why it felt “right” to me.

Rowe encourages us to look deeply at the details of a scene. Here are a few of my observations: These boys running around a corner at me, seem happy – as happy as any American children – racing somewhere fun on the streets of old Havana. The American link can be seen in the tennis shoes and the Georgia Bulldog shirt of the boy on the left. Motion blur and catching at least one foot off the ground shows the speed. The man in denim (and the man with the dolly) grounds the scene in a more adult way. This is a working street. The backdrop is old Havana with the abandoned and destroyed buildings, but this doesn’t seem to dampen the boys’ spirits. I only have this one photo of these boys. They turned the corner and were gone. But I captured this one moment in time - a real moment.

This analysis is designed to help us as photographers really see a scene in the details – making the initially invisible elements of the scene, visible.

When we photograph with intuition, we are tapping into the invisible elements that speak to us and will likely speak to the viewers of our photographs. Photograph with our feelings our intuition, not our mind. Take the shot when the image “sings” to you.

In the author’s words:

Experiencing the relationship, the interaction, between Zen and photography has given me an orientation to the world, a visual awareness, a way to get more out of life, and a way to taste and savor the reality of the moment – the Now. It has taught me how to see – and, ultimately, through seeing how to be.

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Article Written by Jennifer Mishra

Jennifer Mishra is an American travel photographer born in Colorado and based in the St. Louis metro area. She has a background in classical music and academia. She is the founder of PhotoYoga. Her photos are published at Wits End Photography or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

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