Now that I'm getting ready to write not one, not two, but three books (how did that happen?) talking about my basic message -- photography, and creative work in general -- opens our eyes to the magic around us -- I've returned yet again to one of my all time favorite books on photography: The Tao of Photography by Philippe L. Gross and S I Shapiro. This isn't a book on the how to of photography so much as it is about the why to, and why photography, of all the arts, is so uniquely suited for connecting us to the world. It's a book full of lovely images, compelling text and the words of many photographers talking about what it means to photograph.
So many books, magazines and websites are dedicated to the technical aspects of photography that it's easy to lose sight of the human factor: head, heart and hand. The technical articles speak of control -- learning to control the camera settings and make intelligent, vision-based decisions about composition and perspective. And those things are essential. Mastery of the tools is fundamental in any creative work.
But there's a balance, and it seems that too often, the other side of the equation, those intangibles that create powerful images, takes a back seat. That leaves some would-be photographers at the starting gate, bewildered by the array of lenses and terminology. The flip side of control is of course, non-control; the willingness to approach photographing with a waiting eye and beginner's mind, ready to receive as well as take the photograph. And this is a part of photography that's available to anyone -- because it's found not inside the camera, but in the photographer, whose aim is to capture those fleeting moments.
So many of the photographers quoted in The Tao of Photography speak of intuition, of being seized by a photograph, of sensing what a picture has to be, of surrendering to the decisive moment. This is not the planning and careful composition we learn in classes and lessons, but a lightning flash of knowing that comes from being a part of the moment. In this kind of photography, linear, conscious decision making gives way to a holistic, intuitive grasp of everything in the scene. And because photographer, camera and subject all share the same moment, the snap of the shutter unites them all. And the best photography is a union of the intuitive and the conscious -- a thorough understanding of the tools and a willingness to surrender decision making to a part of the self that "just knows" the best shot.