Relaxed Attentiveness

A few days ago I pulled a book from my library that I have not held in my hands in a long time. “Photography and the Art of Seeing” by Freeman Patterson is a gem. First published in 1985 I own a second print copy from 1989. I remember the day it fell into my hands, literally, at my favourite second-hand bookstore in Penticton. When I scaled down my library in 2017 this book was one I could never part with.

At four in the morning it drew me to that corner of the book shelf where it was neatly tucked away after I unpacked the many book boxes last February. I began to flip through the book, back to front not particularly certain why it had to be this book that drew me in, when I stopped on page 36 and began to read the first paragraphs under the chapter heading “Relaxed Attentiveness” I knew why it had to be this book.


Black on white the following words confirmed my own insights:
“When did you last lean back in your easy chair and contemplate the patterns of light on the ceiling, rather than pick up the newspaper or turn on your television set? When did you look thoughtfully at the butter melting on your morning toast? When did you stop to examine the structure of a cabbage, as you bisected it for cooking?
In photography, observing is the first and most important skill we have to learn. Learning to observe requires us to set time aside to “see” familiar things. But, even if we take the time, we may find it difficult to observe carefully because we are tense and preoccupied with other things.
The first step in learning any skill is to relax. As long as you you are worried, tense, or concerned about success, you are thinking about yourself – not about the skill you want to acquire.
The second step is to be able to pay attention to somebody or something else. The trick is to learn
how to switch yourself off, so you can switch your subject matter on. You have to ‘let go’. Effective photographic expression depends on it.”
Freeman Patterson, Photography and the Art of Seeing, Key Porter Publishing, Toronto, 1985, 1989, ISBN 1-55013-099-4

I know I read these words when I first purchased the book in 2013. They slipped somewhere into the recesses of my mind and became part of the foundation for the contemplative photography path I embarked on with conviction in 2016. These four short paragraphs continue to guide me subconsciously every time following the insertion of the fully charged battery into the camera body, the reformatting of memory cards and checking the ISO settings.

Whether I go out alone, with a friend or a group, I am able to ease into the environment by letting my eyes appreciate the surroundings. I am aware and alert and ready to move in when the opportunity calls. But, I don’t have to go far. The short slide show today demonstrates clearly that relaxed attentiveness can be part of any time of the day. The images were captured during the early morning hours, with the first light tentatively illuminating the sky as the sun was making it’s presence known on the eastern horizon. Moments later the silhouettes are more defined and then finally the trees move from merely being black shapes into becoming part of the early morning landscape reflecting off the river.

It only took a short time to witness these changes going from darkness to light. I observed from my couch in complete silence appreciating the changes as they presented themselves before me as if painted by a magic brush. Witnessing the light changing early in the day sets the mood for what follows. I am grateful for the opportunities of discovery as I continue to try to master “the art of seeing.”

I hope you enjoyed my contemplation. May it contribute to your day with positivity. Pause and really see what is presented to you. Warm wishes, Anna


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