Zen Photography

Since my early teenage days I am into photography, though with several interruptions. A picture I like must be full of atmosphere, telling a story, magically transporting all the circumstances which cannot be printed on a sheet of paper: the scent of the flowers and warmth of an early spring day, the joyful activity and sound-scape of a street in Kyoto during Gion Matsuri, the smell of humid old cedar-wood and moss on a veranda facing a Japanese garden in the rain.


Taking a picture at the Kyudo Dojo
of Engakuji Temple in Kamakura.

Aside from technical aspects (which often are ridiculously over-emphasized), I experience taking a picture very much like writing calligraphy: in this very moment I am fully present, and complete my work in one breath; not much can be improved thereafter. Most important is not being disturbed in my mindset by the action itself.

The reason why I gave up photography several times for years was that searching for nice views and handling a camera disturbed me experiencing the very situation I wanted to capture, and the wish of documenting everything became over-dominant. Doing calligraphy, you destroy your work already before the brush touches the paper if your mind is occupied by the desire to write something good.

One of my favourite photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson, was made aware of Eugen Herrigels “Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschiessens” by his artist friend Georges Braque. Later, another famous photographer, Robert Doisneau, compared Cartier-Bressons work to that of a Japanese archer. It is not transmitted if he had in mind the aesthetic and solemn atmosphere of Zen archery Herrigel described in his book, or the wild yabusame horse riders who attempt to hit the bull’s eye in full gallop, but both images describe very well the process of taking a picture, I guess.

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