Mindful Photography is a means of applying “intentional action” to the art of taking pictures.
Many of us have already made a path for ourselves with a focused goal in our lives; however, to be calm and “present” to the successful moments in carrying out those goals is not always easily accomplished. Mindful Photography offers a means by which one can achieve that.
In a mindful practice, it is taking photographs with one intention: to be purely in one’s own state of being, where there are no rules, and above all, no expectations. For example, place your hands at your heart, feel its beat, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes to that which is before you. Soon, you will experience a heightened sense of awareness.
As a life-long photographer, I became a teacher of Mindful Photography when I was hired by a local hospital to teach at their rehabilitation facility. The students suffered from all sorts of anxieties, disorders, and other mental illnesses. No matter their challenges, they showed up every week because they were curious. This is one of the foundations of mindful photography.
I began each class with a meditation using chimes to still the room. I asked the students to take some breaths, close their eyes, and sit in the silence. After a few minutes, they moved out of that silence into a group discussion about how mindful photography partners with the meditation they just experienced – the only difference for them is that they have a tool – a camera. They held their cameras, felt the shape, got to know what a camera could do and how it could become a friend in creating images.
Each class centered around a basic technique of photography. Students were guided to combine that skill with open hearts trusting their eyes would carry them toward what to photograph. Students embraced the exercise and soon found they were focusing on images that related to what was going on inside of them. At the end of the semester, there was a gallery show. Students selected two of their own prints that resonated with them and then explained why. This practice helped the counselors understand the positive benefits of mindful photography.
“Susie Biehler helped even our most symptomatic clients engage and produce fantastic works of photography. Students felt very proud of their work and their self-esteem improved. Susie not only had a passion and talent in photography, but also a special skill in connecting with and supporting others. Her calm demeanor and warmth made all the clients feel at ease. Susie’s ability to effectively communicate with the clients, even those with cognitive impairments or active symptoms, allowed each participant to successfully participate to the best of their ability. She communicates a sense of respect and hope to all her students.”
— Jennifer Baity, Mental Health Rehabilitation Program Director
Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital
My journey to Mindful Photography began when photography chose me and became my art form. I was a gangling teenager, unsure of how to be, and how to socialize. As long as I had my camera strapped around my shoulder, I felt secure in myself. I sought out the light and where it would take me. Always, it would lead me back to myself. I knew I was home. A few years ago, I participated in a Contemplative Photography Class at a Buddhist Temple. The instructor took us through exercises to sharpen our ability to “see.” They followed the teachings of book authors Andy Karr and Michael Wood, in The Practice of Contemplative Photography. Little did I know that I now had a name for my art. To be able to practice my photography in a way that can serve and heal others is the greatest gift of my photographic journey.