Cultivating the Good Eye
Clint Thayer recently spent two days at a workshop on Miksang Photography, a contemplative form of photography. In this interview, he shares his thoughts about what he has learned and practiced.
Q: Tell me a little about Miksang and the workshop you attended.
It was a two-day workshop from the Shambhala Meditation Center of Madison. It was an introduction to Level I Miksang photography.
Miksang is a Tibetan word meaning “good eye”. The practice of Miksang really breaks down the core elements of subject matter into a number of different groupings. In Level I, you focus one by one on color, texture, pattern, light, space, and “dot in space”. The latter two used to actually be considered Level II subject matter, but for reasons unknown to me these are now included in Level I.
Miksang photography was founded in 1983 by Canadian photographers Michael Wood and John McQuade, based on the teachings of a Buddhist scholar.
Q: How did you first hear about it? What attracted you to this form of photography?
I had seen a Miksang photography art show at the Overture Center in Madison (interviewer’s note: the show runs through April 4, 2010). It really resonated with me. The description of the approach as well as the images in the show echoed some of my core values about fine art photography – which is, essentially, finding beauty in the mundane. Being mindful to look out for things that are so unique but that – when we’re busy and unthinking – we walk past.
Miksang is about the celebration of being in the present moment with your subject matter. Being mindful of the fact that there is beauty in everything – in the simplest of colors, the simplest of textures, patterns.
You can photograph something very simple, but yet the way that you compose the photo results in an intensely powerful image. And I think the reason why I like folks that are doing Miksang is that they’re celebrating that. They’re challenging themselves to find those times in life when you can go out and look at the world through the lens of a camera with that perspective.
Q: Do you have any Miksang projects in the works? Where do you see this going in the future?
Since it was an introductory course, the obvious next step would be to research and study
Level II. There are three levels of Miksang altogether.
Q: Do you think this style will influence your approach to sports photography, or will it mainly inform fine art photography?
No, I think it influences everything. I think it inspires a photographer and challenges them to look at things not with more complexity, but with less complexity.
Q: Is the Miksang approach an effort to make things abstract, or more realistic?
In a lot of level I Miksang, images are very abstract, especially some of the color and texture images. When you start showing more elements of light, and space, and “dot in space”, then the natural world tends to creep in, because you’re backing away from the subject matter to allow more light, texture, pattern.
The best way to describe it – as the instructor articulated - is that it’s as if you’re walking along and a field opens to your left and there is an immaculate sunrise or sunset and you stop and think, “That is a beautiful image, a beautiful scene.” Your mind stops its constant chatter and dialog. Everything is just attuned to that scene.
The study of Miksang photography is about finding those moments in anything and everything you see. A shadow, a color, an object in space. It’s about finding those moments and letting those moments hit you – calming your mind so that it is open to the experience.