Book Review — Zen Camera: Creative Awakening with a Daily Practice in Photography

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Zen Camera: Creative Awakening with a Daily Practice in Photography by David Ulrich is an instructional guide to photography based on simple zen practices. Ulrich is currently co-director of Pacific New Media Foundation in Honolulu, Hawaii. He has taught for Pacific New Media, University of Hawaii Mānoa and was a Professor and Chair of the Art Department at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. For fifteen years, he served as Associate Professor and Chair of the Photography Department of The Art Institute of Boston.

Early on Ulrich tells the reader that we have lost sight of the resonant language of metaphor and symbol. We are no longer creative. Poetry is dead. I review quite a bit of poetry so I will disagree with the last statement. But I do see the point. I live in the suburbs and people think it is a nice, well-maintained place to live. What do they base this on? Usually, it is driving through a neighborhood or looking on from a highway. I ride a bicycle and I see the cracks in walls and peeling paint on a suburb that is decomposing. Moving slower and observing things closer I see more. For a while I walked to work, cutting through a small park in the process. I became aware of the trees, the light, and the colors. It was something I didn’t notice before because even at bicycle speeds, I was still moving to fast. Slow down, relax, observe, become aware of your surroundings.

Ulrich says many of the things I recognized myself and adds to it. There is waiting for the right light, right day, and the right subject to appear. There is also a discovery of the photographer’s own eye. Ulrich suggests keeping a journal and taking one to two hundred pictures a day. The volume will help you discover your eye. Many of the basics of photography are covered in light detail as well as zen topics. There is more of a sharing of information rather than conforming to a dogma in his teaching. He also offers photography exercises and practices at the end of each chapter.

There were a few surprises for me in this book. First, use any camera. Even your cellphone camera is allowed. Ulrich is not a purist and pixels are just as good as silver nitrate and paper. Second digital photography allows the photographer to adjust the picture through editing. How often have we taken a picture that that looked so good to our eye but the camera recorded something much blander? Editing software allows the user to fix this without changing the nature of the photographed subject.

Zen Camera is a well written and informative guide to taking better pictures. Ulrich’s own photographs and others are used as supporting material throughout the text. Recommended for those wanting to improve their photographic eye.

 

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