As part of the New Liberal Art’s rollout, Hiram College welcomed Daniel Dodge as an artist- and adventurer-in residence for its fall 2018 three-week session. Through guided discussions and lively Q&As, Dodge shared insights and observations of his experiences as a long-distance hiker, outdoor enthusiast, and mindful photographer. Danni Lynn McDonald, a student at Hiram College reflected on the second lecture in Dodge’s series: Photos that Evoke, Inspire, and Make you Pause: Practicing and Experiencing Mindful Photography.
On an early Tuesday morning, I stepped into the gray-monotone winter woods East of campus, seeking to view the sunrise over Silver Creek. I was bundled in an uncountable number of layers and carried my camera at my hip. During my crepuscular hike, snow dappled leaves crunched under each step, while I thought of photography, technology and mindfulness.
The night before, Daniel Dodge, Hiram’s artist- and adventurer-in residence, and epitome of mindful technology and the College’s Tech and Trek program, gave the second lecture in his series: Photography, Conversation and Reflection.
We live in a fast-paced and complicated world. Technology helps to advance many fields yet, we are prone to its mindless and addictive habits. During face to face conversations, our phones are distractingly on the table, we watch live concerts through the recording screens of our phones or—in my case—obsess over getting that one picture just right until I end up missing the very experience I was trying to save.
Photography is an art that evokes the attention and emotions of the capturer and viewers. It is accessible to photo-takers of all levels, so we can capture, share and preserve our memories. But, a core part of Dan’s talk highlighted mindfulness with photography. An obsession with technology, such as a camera can create a disconnect between yourself and the active present. You can develop a mindless habit where you might forget to live in the moment when you really should learn to take your time and think about what you are trying to convey in a single image.
This past year, I’ve fallen out of taking pictures because of an anxious urgency that has developed to take the perfect shot. Only spontaneous photo excursions with my mum brings back the enjoyment I’ve strayed from, but I have trouble appreciating the moment when I am alone. To counter this, I’ve worked to break my habit until I can reintroduce myself to the photography I love.
When taking pictures, Dan said, “let yourself be childish, let yourself be fascinated and excited about what’s around you.” Sometimes, Dan puts his camera down in the face of a beautiful moment, noting that the experience is, “just for me.” He allows himself to not only experience, but to be immersed in the present. Dan also enjoys capturing the power and resiliency of life. He has a profound love of nature and living things and in practicing his mindfulness, he is an adventurer and then a photographer. This way, his photos take on a meaning because they represent a life he let himself actively live in the present.
In my experience, I can recall one time that I put my camera down to experience a moment. I was at the top of a small mountain in the Scottish Highlands during a 3-week study abroad course The beautiful sight was stolen when a dusty wind picked up from the brush around me and quite literally blew my contacts away. I was devastated, as the distant cluster of Braemar Village amidst the rolling land and curving rivers all framed by snow-capped blue mountains disappeared from my view. Panicked, I tried to take pictures of what I could not see. I did not want to miss the moment until I looked around me and found that a different moment had appeared. The ground and shrubbery that I could no longer see sparkled and blurred into metallic colored shapes and strange forms. It was bewildering and looked like something straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Out of habit, I tried to take a picture but, in that moment, I realized what I was seeing was for me to experience alone and was quite impossible to capture unless I looked at it through my own eyes.
I decided to put my camera down that day until I could return to my hostel and my extra pair of contacts but, since then, I noticed my distracting habits with my camera and struggled to find a balance. When it comes to photography, I love to capture what is unseen to the human eye –minute things such as the thousands of hairs on a spider’s leg or the speckled eyes of a butterfly. I love when the lighting strikes something and twists it into a new reality, such as the streets of Paris after a rain where the setting sun stained the asphalt a deep blue, looking as if all the motorbikes were floating down a river. Different sights or a new take on a reality are what catches my eye.
The morning after Dan’s lecture, while I sat on the bank of Silver Creek, it began to snow as I mediated on his advice of mindfulness and experiencing the moment. I broke open a warm apple-scone for breakfast and adored the creek and one of Hiram’s many hills before me. I let the scene unfold in front of me in all its natural splendor, I let the river be, I let the hill be, free of an enclosed lens, much as I would have wrestled with it to capture in the past. Instead, I enjoyed a moment outside of time with my closed camera by my side.