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In Search of the Visual Mantra.

It's been awhile since I've had the time to write a blog piece about my own thoughts and processes in photography, sitting down to write a blog is something that I enjoy. It is quiet time to reflect on what I have been working on and subsequently where I am heading on this creative journey that gives me so much pleasure. Writing these posts is also a useful diary to look back on.

For this post I thought I would elaborate a little further on a term I used for my recent talk at the Photography Show (thank you to anyone that came to see me!). The image above, taken at my local patch, Spurn Point, could well be described as a minimalist image. I choose to use the phrase 'Visual Mantra'. Our minds obviously control much of how we operate, or maybe that should be our state of mind. In my own life, I'm searching for peace of mind, striving to become more zen-like, less distracted and to live in the moment.

If you've ever visited Spurn Point, you'll have seen many of these groynes, and you will know that they don't simply jump out at you in a composition such as you see here. The groynes are numerous and random; however, the more one visits a location, the more one becomes at ease, able to dissect the scene a little more sensitively.

"the more one visits a location, the more one becomes at ease, able to dissect the scene a little more sensitively".

I'm using the medium of photography, not just to create images that I find pleasing, I'm using it as a therapy to quieten my own mind and to lose myself in that moment. I become completely in the zone, whilst attempting to simplify a scene such as this one. A mantra can be a phrase or sound that is repeated to aid meditation. In the scene above, my aim is to draw the eye to the bottom right groyne, my eye then bounces on to each of the groynes to the left of this one, and then right, across to the cluster of posts that disappear in to the sea. I then repeat this process with my eye being led around and around this image in a circular motion, the negative space in between assisting with this process. It works best with a print, no one wants to be staring at a screen for too long! Just like a Rothko painting, it is possible to lose one's self in the negative space after a time, and that is my aim with scenes such as this, they are not simply minimalism, for minimalism's sake.The aim here is most definitely to create a sense of calm, and this is the best example I can find of the Visual Mantra process.


It is very important to me when making images, that the eye is led around the scene in a pleasing way. Many workshop clients complain that their images simply look like 'snaps', they want to create more mood, or impact. Less is most definitely more for me, and deciding what to leave out, just as important as what goes in to a scene. This is a skill that evolves over time, we begin to see and feel scenes in a different way, lead-in lines such as the one in the image above of Black Nab, become more evident, this isn't necessarily the case for everyone however, we must learn to look for these signs from nature. Here the eye is obviously intended to be drawn in from the bottom left corner, zig-zagging along this wonderful line, like a lightning bolt, at the end of this bold line is a gentle curve in the rock formations, leading us around to Black Nab itself. Repeat this process and here we have another visual mantra available to us.


The previous two images were very empty scenes, with regards to natural features, but the same technique can still be deployed in a busy woodland scene such as this one. Lead-in lines are great, but just as important are the positioning of the elements within the frame. Here the main emphasis is the obvious tree in the foreground, the eye then moves around, from tree to tree, but always back again to the main tree. I've used a shallow depth of field to create a softness that enables the eye to move around with ease. Had the image been sharp front to back, I feel the scene would become a little more harsh, lacking the subtlety required for the Visual mantra.

I hope that gives you a little food for thought, a brief insight in to the way I find myself working at present, this subject is often something that gets discussed on workshops. I don't like to dissect things too much, be it processes, techniques or kit. Everything should be a natural progression, techniques should evolve organically and freely over time, and that is something that will happen in different ways for all of us.

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